A survivor of the Lamma ferry disaster quickly lost hold of his girlfriend and two other friends on their sinking vessel, although they were holding hands, he told the commission of inquiry yesterday.
Tang Ying-kit, a Hongkong Electric employee, said the four were knocked to the floor of the Lamma IV when it was struck by the Sea Smooth. They quickly got back on their feet, in an open area of the upper deck, and grasped each other's hands, hoping they would not be parted.
"After more than 10 seconds, the vessel began to sink and the lower part of my body was already immersed in water, and very soon my head was also immersed in water," Tang said.
When he got back to the surface, Tang found himself trapped in the cabin; he could not see his friends. His girlfriend was later found dead. The tilting stopped for a while, Tang said. He put on a life jacket and waited for help. About 30 minutes later he saw lights outside the boat. Removing his life jacket, Tang swam down and managed to escape from the partially submerged vessel.
Meanwhile, naval expert Dr Neville Armstrong told the commission a one-line change in the Marine Department's instructions on inspecting new ships would have caused "confusion".
He said the amended instructions, set out in 1995, called for inspectors to assess a new ship's seaworthiness by assuming one of its watertight compartments was damaged in an accident.
Under the previous regulations, inspectors were told to assume damage extended along at least 10 per cent of a ship's length, so if one compartment covered less than 10 per cent of the total length, the damage should be assumed to extend into the adjacent compartment as well.
Armstrong said the deletion of the line made the rule ambiguous, although there were other rules governing the matter.
"It is incorrect to suggest that a compartment with a length of less than 10 per cent [of the vessel length] can be ignored, as it is the position of the watertight bulkheads that is important. They affect the compartments both in front [of] and behind any small compartment less than 10 per cent [of the length]," he said.