Smuggling suspects died in boat crash

FOUR smuggling suspects died after their speedboat collided with a Marine Police vessel during a high-speed chase in Victoria Harbour, an inquest heard.

The dead men were Leung Chi-wah, 21, Tang Fuk-shing, 37, and brothers Pang Chi-wah, 30, and Pang Ping-kin, 25.

They died of multiple injuries or drowning.

The court heard that police vessels PV25 and PV29 were on anti-smuggling operations on the night of August 8-9 last year.

At about 3 am, PV25 spotted a ''chung fei'', or medium-sized speedboat, next to a quay wall where a van was parked and people were seen moving things near Sheung Wan fire station.

Suspecting that the chung fei was involved in smuggling, Sergeant Fong Chong-nin, the coxswain of the police boat, said he approached the vessel slowly. When PV25 was about 50 metres from the chung fei, it quickly left.

''It travelled at high speed towards Central. The van and the people ashore disappeared,'' Sergeant Fong said.

Inspector Kong Yiu-man turned on a spotlight and sent out the ''halt'' signal. The signal was sent out continuously during the chase, while other officers fired flares to illuminate the scene.

After chasing the chung fei for some distance, it suddenly changed course, heading towards the police vessel.

Sergeant Fong said he felt his vessel hit something and he fell to the floor.

After halting the police vessel, he found that two of his colleagues were missing. He later found them in the water near the chung fei.

Officers from PV29 also helped to rescue people from the water.

Sergeant Fong said he overheard that a person rescued from the chung fei had sustained serious injuries and was sent to hospital.

His vessel patrolled the area for about five minutes in search of other people thrown into the water.

Asked by Ms Lynda Shine, representing the Marine Police, whether his vessel was unlit during the chase, he said yes.

He also said that the blue light on his vessel was turned on during the chase and that the chung fei was unlit.

Mr John McPartland, a nautical surveyor with the Marine Department who investigated the incident, said the crew member of the chung fei died before reaching hospital.

''He was found to be seriously injured and clinging on to the upturned craft. He claimed to be the coxswain of the chung fei and had been the only person on board. Soon after, he lost consciousness,'' he said.

One body was recovered from the water off Western district on August 11 and two more bodies were recovered the following day. All three were identified by relatives as having been on board the chung fei on August 9.

The hearing before Coroner Mr Warner Banks and a jury continues.