CHINESE patrol boats are believed to have attacked two large ships south of Hongkong, shooting at the bridge windows of one and chasing another for more than two hours. Last night the Hongkong Shipowners' Association warned: ''Lives are now at risk.'' The latest attacks sparked calls for the Government to put moral and humanitarian grounds before political considerations to seek explanations from China. Association director Mr Michael Farlie said: ''This association is not concerned with the legal niceties. ''If this is piracy, an act of war or armed interference, it still needs explanation.'' He said Hongkong was party to the United Nations' International Maritime Organisation (IMO) conventions on safety of life at sea and terrorism and had a duty to raise the issue at the IMO next month. In the first attack on Thursday night, the Cyprus-registered container ship OOCL Beacon came under machinegun fire from a patrol boat as it passed about 200 miles south of Hongkong on its way from Singapore to Taiwan. In a report to the Hongkong Marine Department, the 28,078-tonne ship reported extensive damage to its bridge windows. It fled at full speed and successfully shook off the raiders. Shortly after midnight, the Philippine-registered Salud Ace, a 24,948-tonne bulk carrier sailing from Hongkong to Australia, was attacked by a patrol boat carrying men wearing green uniforms. Both ships continued on to their destinations with no reports of injuries to crew. The incidents follow a violent Chinese anti-smuggling raid on a Hongkong captain and crew north of the Philippines last Saturday. The Office of the Political Adviser yesterday expressed concern at ''reckless and excessive'' use of firearms in the incident in a special meeting with the New China News Agency, but failed to gain any explanation for the raid. Chinese officials reportedly said they would have to investigate before commenting. The Deputy Secretary for Security, Mr Jim Morris, said senior government officials were examining what impact continued interference to shipping in the South China Sea was having on Hongkong's reputation. Officials were also reviewing what more Hongkong could do through the IMO to draw attention to the South China Sea raids, now believed to involve Chinese officials on anti-smuggling patrols rather than pirates. Mr Morris warned that Hongkong could not take the role of ''regional policeman'', despite international pressure. ''We can't go accusing China of piracy. We can't sit in judgement on what they [China] are doing in their own or international waters. ''We can take action if we feel there has been excessive action against Hongkong ships or residents.'' Under international maritime law, piracy could only be committed by private individuals while action taken by Chinese officials in international waters could be classed as interceptions, Mr Morris said. Marine Department officials are under instructions to revise their piracy reports according to the legal opinion in its report to the IMO's maritime safety committee in London next month. Marine Department sources said the Security Branch was using legal distinctions to avoid confronting China for political reasons.