The Government intends to substantially reduce the maximum speed limits on vessels using Victoria Harbour to improve safety. The Marine Department said it would report to the Economic Services panel of the Legislative Council within the next few weeks, presenting recommendations that the speed limit be reduced by a third. 'In the harbour, we have set a maximum speed of 10 knots, varying with the size of vessels,' Marine Department director Tsui Shung-yiu said. The existing speed limit is 15 knots. In Hong Kong waters outside the harbour, vessels would be allowed to travel at a maximum of 15 to 16 knots. 'We are now nearly finalised and have gone through the consultations [with the industry] with small amendments being introduced,' he said. High-speed harbour ferries would be granted exemptions from the new speed limits, except in certain areas. Mr Tsui said speed limits later would be expanded to cover the Lamma and Ma Wan channels. He considers the new speed limits go as far as is possible. If speeds were lowered much further, container vessels would not be able to enter the port, he said. Mr Tsui said another part of the safety ordinance that already had been introduced was patrols at the airport side of the Tsing Ma Bridge to ensure vessels adhered to the height restrictions. The department would introduce a patrol launch at Mirs Bay to regulate the traffic within the area. Barges with derricks over 32 metres also would be prevented from passing beneath Kap Shui Mun bridge. A radar station will come into operation at the end of this month at Peng Chau to strengthen checks on vessel traffic in the northeastern side of Hong Kong. Mr Tsui said shipping register tonnage now was at 6.01 million gross registered tonnes. About 20 per cent of the vessels on the register were from companies with mainland interests. The department was receiving a great deal of support from mainland companies such as China Ocean Shipping Co, New Asian Shipping Co and Euro Asia, Mr Tsui said. Other companies also had informed the department they would support the local register. It had introduced interim arrangements to simplify survey procedures and would even allow delays in the audit inspections. For example, it would accept submission of a title document after registration of a vessel, he said. Previously, owners had to submit the title document before registration. The department would use Hong Kong's overseas economic and trade offices to verify documents to allow early registration, without waiting for the physical document to reach the department before proceeding. The department hoped to complete consolidation of the fee schedule this year, after legislation was amended.