A tearful ferry company boss admitted that the captain of Sea Smooth, a vessel owned by his firm, did not follow international marine law to exchange details with his counterpart on Lamma IV, the vessel it had collided with.
But Nelson Ng Siu-yuen, Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry Holdings (HKKF)'s general manager, rejected claims that Sea Smooth, which was carrying more than 90 people at the time of the collision, was guilty of a "hit and run". He suggested instead that the Lamma IV could have sunk too quickly, before the captains could exchange collision details, and said it was too early to draw conclusions before a police investigation ended.
Ng said captains found to have breached marine law by not exchanging accident information could be sacked.
The captain, surnamed Lai, remained in hospital, attended to by psychologists. He was too emotional to recall the crash, Ng said. "But this does not mean my crew had not tried to do so as I have not obtained a detailed report," he added.
Ng said that the captain had remained at the scene to check on his vessel after the collision, but he did not know how long it had stayed.
At his first press conference since the disaster yesterday, Ng also said that one of his relatives lost two daughters, both aged under 10, in the tragedy. The death toll remains at 38, with more than 100 injuries from the collision between the two vessels.
Lamma IV's captain Chow Chi-wai, 56, who had fractured his arm and cracked a rib, remained in Queen Mary Hospital yesterday. His wife said he was badly hurt and had tried his best.
Ng said Sea Smooth had been in service for 10 years and its seaworthiness was checked just last month. Its captain received his sailing licence in 1985 and has worked for HKKF for three years with a clean record.
The captain, an engineer and a sailor were arrested on Tuesday and have been released on bail.
Sea Smooth was on its final voyage of the day. Its captain had had a day off on Sunday and had been on duty for more than 10 hours before the accident on Monday, Ng said.
But he rejected suggestions that the captain was overly tired or that the ship had deviated from its course. He estimated the ferry was running at a speed of 21 to 22 knots as usual; the area had no speed limit.
A passenger on board the Sea Smooth felt the captain made the right move in returning to shore.
David Macfarlane, 41, a Lamma resident who was on board with his wife Ligaya, 38, and his two children Kyle, nine, and Ruaridh, three, backed the captain's decision.
"After the impact, part of the ceiling came down and water was coming into the boat … No one knew what was happening. I didn't see any communicating with the staff or asking anything," Macfarlane said.
"The fact that there was water gushing into the boat from a hole in the front suggests to me that the captain did the right thing by taking us back to shore rather than adding to the fatalities. It's as simple as that in my opinion.
"There was no warning, we didn't … have any inkling that anything was about to happen. We thought it was maybe a junk we had hit, or a rock. It wasn't until we got to the shore and saw the news that I realised the full extent of the tragedy."