The captain of the Lamma IV had more than a minute and a half to avert disaster after spotting the Sea Smooth ferry on the radar - but a minute went by before he began to turn out of its path, the commission of inquiry into the subsequent crash heard.
Captain Chow Chi-wai had told the Marine Department he never looked at the radar after his Hongkong Electric vessel left the typhoon shelter en route to watch the National Day fireworks, with three crew members and 124 company staff and their families on board. But he told the commission that he first saw the Sea Smooth on radar one nautical mile away.
Eight children were among the 39 passengers and crew on the Lamma IV who died when it hit the Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry catamaran on October 1.
Paul Shieh Wing-tai SC, counsel for the commission, said Chow's testimony presented three different possibilities for when he first spotted the ferry. Asked if he had anything to say about the various possibilities, Chow said no.
Based on Chow's evidence, Shieh calculated it would have taken 100 seconds from Chow seeing the ferry on the radar a nautical mile away to collision.
Explaining why he did not take immediate action to avoid collision, Chow said: "For vessels running in the inner port, if both vessels abide by the rules, then three cables would be sufficient."
Chow agreed that when he started to make the right turn at three cables' distance - which the commission heard represented 30 seconds - he was hindered by rocks.
He admitted he had no radar licence and said it was difficult to turn right and keep looking at the radar. An extra crew member was needed, he said.
When re-examined by Clive Grossman SC, for the owner and crew of Lamma IV, Chow admitted his memory could have been affected by medicines he was prescribed by a psychiatrist in the aftermath of the tragedy, but insisted he could recall everything that happened that night.
Meanwhile, a court interpreter criticised in the Post by a relative of two victims failed to return to the inquiry after the morning break.
Commission chairman Mr Justice Michael Lunn said: "It's a matter of regret to me personally that events have been contrived in a way that has resulted in this quite unnecessary difficulty." Four of the five main counsel said she had done a good job.
A new interpreter was brought in to replace her.
Ryan Tsui Chi-shing, whose older brother and niece died in the tragedy, said: "With so many lawyers supporting the interpreter, I also feel regret."
However, he questioned how some English-speaking counsel could judge the quality of her translations.