A senior Hongkong Electric executive said yesterday he knew there were no life jackets for children on the Lamma IV, which sank last year killing 39 people, including eight children, but he believed they could use the vessel's life raft in an emergency.
General manager of the company's generation division Francis Cheng Cho-ying also told the commission of inquiry into the October 1 tragedy how he worked around a sudden and "unfair" increase in the vessel's minimum crew requirement without hiring extra staff.
Cheng, whose tasks include overseeing the company's marine section, said he knew there would be children on the National Day fireworks-viewing voyage that ended in a collision with the public ferry Sea Smooth.
Asked why the company did not arrange any children's life jackets, he said: "A life raft is provided on our vessel and I believe children can use a life raft in normal circumstances," adding that children's jackets were not required under the licence.
He also said the responsibility for evaluating the risk of the trip fell on his subordinate, marine officer Tang Wan-on, who is due to testify later.
Cheng said there were 65 lifebuoys on the Lamma IV, each catering for two people.
Together with 92 life jackets and a life raft for 10, the safety equipment was enough for the total capacity of 232.
On the night of the collision there were 127 people, including three crew members, on board.
Cheng also said the Marine Department had suddenly changed the minimum crew member requirement of Lamma IV from two to four in 2008, while that for sister ship Lamma II remained at two.
He said the department did not give a reason, which he described as unfair.
They came up with an idea of reducing the frequency of using Lamma IV and asked the company's marine officer and marine supervisor to go on board to make up the complement. The department was not informed.
On October 1, nine employees who helped organise the trip were on board, which Cheng regarded as complying with the crew requirement although only one had sea-going experience. Three of them died.
Cheng, the most senior Hongkong Electric employee to testify so far, also said there was no demonstration to passengers on how to wear life jackets before the vessel set sail as there was a diagram on board illustrating the procedure.
Cheng said there were demonstrations on board the Lamma IV and Lamma II - used for staff commuting to the company's power plant on Lamma Island - on the last Friday of every month while on-board emergency drills were conducted once a week.