The boat that sank off Lamma Island in October with the loss of 39 lives had flaws that made it more vulnerable to damage and prone to sinking quickly, the commission of inquiry into the tragedy was told yesterday.
The side plates of the Lamma IV were thinner than the design standard, the upper deck seats were inadequately fixed and it lacked an internal watertight door, allowing three compartments to flood after the collision with the ferry Sea Smooth, a naval architect found.
Representatives of Cheoy Lee Shipyards, which built the Lamma IV in 1995, were ordered to testify next week, despite a plea by their lawyers for two weeks to study the report by commission-appointed architect Dr Anthony Armstrong.
The problems were outlined in a letter sent to the shipyard last Thursday, inviting its directors to testify, as it "may be the subject of criticism" in the commission's report. The letter said the side plating was 4.5mm thick instead of the required thickness of 5mm.
"The thinner plating size may have contributed to the extent of the damage that was experienced, as plating of a greater thickness would have reduced the hole size and provided more time for escape before the vessel sank," the letter said.
The two holes in the hull contributed materially to the speed of sinking, it added.
Also, no watertight door was fitted to a large access opening between the Hongkong Electric-owned vessel's aft peak and its tank room, leaving three compartments flooded at the rear.
Felix Pao, for Cheoy Lee, applied for two weeks to study Armstrong's report. But commission chairman Mr Justice Michael Lunn rejected the request.
The testimony of seven Marine Department surveyors, due yesterday, was however postponed to Monday to allow them more time to study the report.
Questions were raised over whether the Lamma IV was undermanned on October 1. The operational licence stated that the minimum crew members required was four, but there was only a coxswain, an engineer and a sailor on board. But counsel for the commission Roger Beresford said there could have been others on board who "might be submitted to have been on the business of the vessel".
Senior marine officer Li Kin-pong said he could not comment on whether it was undermanned.
The licence for sister boat Lamma II, which sailed with Lamma IV on the ill-fated voyage to view the National Day fireworks, required two crew members, although the two vessels had similar length and capacity. The commission is expected to hear next week why this was so.
The hearing continues on Monday.