Two mainland workers died after they were buried in sand for about 45 minutes on a barge near the former Kai Tak airport yesterday.
The men, aged 39 and 41, were working on top of a heap of sand, about 7 metres high, inside the hold of a mainland-registered barge - Jia Jin - when the accident happened at about 1.30pm.
Police said there were nine mainland crewmen aboard the vessel. Preliminary investigations showed there were two sand heaps. The victims were working on top of one heap when they fell and the pile collapsed on them, burying them.
The two were trapped and rescuers could not use heavy equipment for fear of injuring the two men, according to senior Ma Tau Chung fire station officer So Kam-sang. This led to the rescue operation being delayed.
'The men were completely buried under a 1 metre-deep pile of sand at the bottom of the cargo hold,' Mr So said. 'To prevent more sand falling into the hold, and considering the safety of our officers and victims, our officers had to take extra caution.
'They could not use heavy equipment. They were only allowed to use hand tools like spades to search for the two victims.'
Eight firemen secured by safety ropes were sent down into the cargo hold to try and dig for the victims.
Another team of 11 firemen was on standby on the deck.
After digging for about 45 minutes, firemen located one of the two workers. The other worker was discovered about five minutes later.
The two mainland men were taken to Queen Elizabeth Hospital where they were later declared dead.
The Marine Department said it would investigate the cause of the incident.