The Sea Smooth public ferry plunged as deep as halfway into private motor launch Lamma IV, crushing rows of chairs on the vessel's main deck cabin in the collision, a commission of inquiry into the October 1 tragedy heard yesterday.
The process of the collision and damage to both vessels were detailed yesterday as the commission went through a government laboratory report.
Government forensic scientist Dr Cheng Yuk-ki, who had examined both vessels, reported that the Sea Smooth's port bow came into contact with the Lamma IV's port quarter at an angle of 30 degrees.
"The foredeck of Sea Smooth had breached the side panel of the main deck cabin of Lamma IV, and went in and reached the centreline of the main deck cabin, crushing the seats and air-conditioning system … and causing the collapse of a large piece of ceiling frame," Cheng said.
Smears of deep blue paint were found at the ceiling frame near the Lamma IV's centreline, indicating that the Sea Smooth had gone almost 3.5 metres into the vessel when they collided. The distance was half the breadth of the Lamma IV.
At almost the same time, the Sea Smooth's port bow pierced the Lamma IV's port quarter, ripping a slanted 4.4-metre-long gash in its engine room hull and leaving a piece of its own fibreboard planking behind.
The Sea Smooth's broken keel - the hardest part of a ship - also pierced a large jagged hole in the tank room of the Lamma IV before the impact between the two vessel's cabins stopped the Sea Smooth from moving further forward into the Lamma IV, thus disengaging the two ferries.
Counsel for the commission, Paul Shieh Wing-tai SC, said "what started off as two holes from the outside [of the Lamma IV] resulted in the flooding of three compartments on the inside" because of a missing watertight door between the last two compartments.
A piece of triangular side panel from the Sea Smooth was also left on the Lamma IV's foredeck.
The report noted that the upper deck of the Lamma IV was bare with just one seat left secured after the crash. Most of the other seats were dislodged as passengers could have stood on or hung onto them as the ferry sank vertically almost immediately after the accident.
At least 10 seats had been remounted at least once, as one or two additional screw holes were found in the positions where the seats were secured, the report said. Some mounting holes appeared to be deformed.
The port bow of the Sea Smooth was badly damaged, leaving a breach measuring 2.4 metres high, 4.3 metres long and 1.5 metres wide. This had caused the flooding of the first two of its seven port hull compartments.
The commission also heard that a Marine Department officer doubled the Lamma IV's minimum manning level from two to four in 2008, without documenting the reason or informing his superior. Chairman Mr Justice Michael Lunn described this as "dysfunctional".
The hearing continues today.