Retiring expats to sail home on 3 liners

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 January, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 January, 1997, 12:00am

Three luxury liners will visit Hong Kong this year to collect retiring civil servants taking advantage of colonial benefits still available to expatriates.

As P & O's world cruise ship Oriana left Southampton last week en route for Hong Kong, the Civil Service Branch said 800 expatriate officials retained the contractual right to a sea passage home.

This year 67 officers and 91 family members are to board the Oriana or Cunard's QE2, at a cost to the taxpayer of $9.9 million, or $62,700 per head.

The Oriana will pick up 53 officers and 72 dependants when it berths in the territory on March 5. It will reach Britain on April 8 having dropped anchor in Malaysia, Mauritius, Durban, the Cape Verde islands and Tenerife, among other stopovers.

The QE2 left New York on January 4 and will arrive in the territory on March 6 to collect 13 retiring expats and 19 family members before taking a slightly different but equally alluring route back to the UK.

One Australian expatriate officer is to board the Canberra on February 8 for a leg of its final world cruise. He was lucky to get a cabin for the nostalgic last voyage as tickets sold out within three days.

Association of Expatriate Civil Servants spokesman Allan Roger said the perk would survive the end of colonial rule as the Government was contractually bound to deliver it to those who qualify.

'The Government is still the Hong Kong Government, whether it is under the UK or China,' he said. 'The SAR government will have to honour its legal obligations.

'This is entirely consistent with the recent Court of Appeal judgment that accrued rates cannot be taken away without compensation.' The sea-passage option was introduced in 1972 but taken out of new contracts from December 1984. There was an outcry from civil servants five years ago when the Government tried to replace the entitlement with a cheaper alternative.

Expatriate officers who switch to local terms lose the entitlement. Historically only 30 per cent of retiring officials have chosen to go home by sea. Many who have taken up the cruise option have flown straight back to Hong Kong to find new jobs.