After waiting half a year for their back pay, about 70 ship workers finally heard good news yesterday: they will receive HK$7.4 million in wages unpaid since the Macao Dragon ferry company collapsed last year.
The High Court bailiff's office confirmed yesterday that two high-speed ferries were sold for HK$80 million each, making the payment of full back wages possible.
This meant the crew members - including ferry captains, engineers, seamen and cabin attendants - could receive their back pay in six weeks, said Jason Lam Wai-hong, assistant head of the Hong Kong branch of the International Transport Workers Federation.
The crew were last paid in August 2011, before Macao Dragon went into liquidation on September 15.
Crew members' pay claims are being drawn up, and will be submitted to the Admiralty Court, by lawyers at the firm Blank Rome, Lam said. One crewman is filing separately through the Legal Aid Department.
Some of the former crew have found jobs with other ferry companies or are working in the hospitality industry, but 'some of them are unemployed', Lam said, although he was unable to give the number.
Mr Justice Anselmo Reyes will have to decide the priority of payment for each claimant, said Nigel Binnersley, a partner at Blank Rome. Based on precedent, he said the Bailiff's Office would be the first to be reimbursed for its costs associated with the arrest and sale of the two ferries.
Seagoing staff would be the second in line to be paid and should receive their back pay in full, Binnersley said.
The balance of the cash will go to the Macau branch of the Bank of China to repay two loans of HK$160 million that Macao Dragon used to buy the ferries.
The vessels, Shen Long and Tian Long, were seized on September 30 by lawyers acting on behalf of the Bank of China. The two ships, which can each carry up to 1,200 passengers, are moored off Kennedy Town.
Few details are known about the buyer, but one shipbroker said mainland interests were involved, who planned to base them on Hainan Island. 'We do not know if they are planned for an inter-Hainan service or between Hainan and another province or country,' the broker said.
Singapore-based Marinteknik Shipbuilders built the vessels originally for a Spanish operator who did not take delivery.
Instead, Hong Kong businessman David Liang Chong-hou helped launch Macao Dragon, putting the vessels into service after they had been parked in Singapore for two years. Liang was a major shareholder in Marinteknik and Macao Dragon.