Barge not responsible for 2015 collision with Tsing Ma Bridge, Hong Kong court rules

Judge instead pins full blame on tugboat captain’s ‘blatant breach of law’

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 5:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 06 March, 2017, 5:34pm

The company owning the barge that paralysed all land links connecting Hong Kong to the city’s airport by smashing into a key bridge in 2015 was on Monday found not responsible for the collision.

Instead West Kowloon Court concluded that Winway Engineering Limited had taken all reasonable precautions and that its tugboat captain Lai Muk-hei should bear full responsibility.

The case centred on a collision at 7.37pm on October 23, 2015, when dumb lighter Sun Choi Wai No 8, towed by tugboat Ever Shine No 12, hit the base of Kap Shui Mun Bridge while it was en route to Yau Ma Tei Typhoon Shelter for repairs.

The incident prompted calls for the government to establish alternative transport links to what was widely known as one of the world’s best airports. The collision triggered an alarm system that closed the Kap Shui Mun plus Tsing Ma bridge sections of the Lantau Link.

Thousands of travellers were left stranded, with Lantau Island and the airport effectively cut off from the rest of the city, save for a circuitous route of ferries and buses.

On Monday, magistrate Raymond Wong Kwok-fai stated: “The collision was the result of [the tugboat captain’s] obvious violation of law.”

Hong Kong airport bridge collision: Tug captain ‘may have ignored height limit’

He said Lai had sole control of the tow and designed the route that evening, noting the dumb lighter was not even motorised.

The towed vessel was marked with red and white stripes on its derrick boom, which Wong said should have warned the captain it was restricted from entering the Kap Shui Mun Bridge area.

He found it “very unbelievable” that Lai would be unaware of such restrictions as claimed, given his 17 years in the trade.

“[Lai] was a very experienced coxswain,” the magistrate continued. “Day in and day out he towed various dumb lighters throughout [the] Tsing Ma and Kap Shui Mun [areas].”

The collision was the result of [the tugboat captain’s] obvious violation of law
Raymond Wong Kwok-fai, magistrate

Thus Wong concluded the only reason for Lai to travel through Kap Shui Mun was convenience, noting the route would be at least 15 minutes minutes faster than had he gone through Tsing Ma.

Meanwhile, the magistrate found dumb lighter owner Winway Engineering Limited could not have expected a tugboat captain of Lai’s experience and entrusted by the main contractor to commit “such blatant breach of law” by ignoring its markings.

He subsequently cleared the company of one summons of colliding with Kap Shui Mun Bridge within the Kap Shui Mun Bridge area, and granted costs to the defence over the prosecution’s objection.

Earlier, Lai and tugboat owner Wing Yip Engineering Works Limited had each pleaded guilty to one summons of the same charge. The two parties are to be sentenced on April 11.

The dumb lighter measured 49 metres in length and 41 metres in height.

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According to the Merchant Shipping (Local Vessels) Ordinance, it is an offence for a vessel exceeding 41 metres in height above sea level to enter the Kap Shui Mun Bridge area. A local vessel exceeding 53 metres in height is barred from the Tsing Ma Bridge area.

Offenders are punishable by a HK$10,000 fine and six months’ imprisonment.