A High Court judge has overturned the conviction of the owner of one of the boats involved in the 2012 Lamma Island ferry tragedy after finding there was not enough evidence to prove the vessel had insufficient crew.
HK Electric, owner of the Lamma IV, had been fined HK$4,500 for having three qualified crew members on board instead of the four its licence required when the boat collided with a ferry on October 1, 2012, and sank, killing 39 people.
But Madam Justice Anthea Pang Ko-kam said yesterday there was no evidence to show that three crew members were insufficient considering all the circumstances at the time.
The company was convicted in Eastern Court last August and initially fined HK$900, which was later increased to HK$4,500.
The prosecution relied on evidence from a passenger who said he saw only three uniformed crew members on board while the vessel's licence required it to have at least four.
But Pang said the section that the prosecution used to charge the company imposed a requirement to have a sufficient number of qualified crew members on board to ensure the safety of a local vessel. "The question of sufficiency can only be answered after considering all the particular features pertaining to the vessel in question," she wrote.
The magistrate had also failed to make further findings as to whether three crew members were insufficient to ensure safety in view of the design, size and speed of the Lamma IV. The finding did not answer the essential question of the charge.
But Pang found the magistrate was correct in stating that company staff on board as part of an excursion to view the National Day fireworks should not be considered crew members as crew should be "qualified and capable of carrying out all duties that pertain to the safety of the vessel".
Irene Cheng, whose son Thomas Koo Man-cheung, 24, died in the sinking, refused to comment on the case, saying the main issue was still how the Marine Department could have issued a license to the Lamma IV.
"We heard from the inquiry hearing that the vessel was not fit to sail," Cheng said. "The problem is not about how many crew members were on board but how come the Marine Department issued the licence."
The Lamma IV collided with the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry-owned vessel Sea Smooth, killing 31 adults and eight children in the accident.
Topics: Lamma ferry crash