Hong Kong travel agency is ruled liable for a fatal accident in Manila Bay in 1997 Six and a half years ago, Ho Yan watched his wife drown in Manila Bay as she swam back to their capsized tour boat to try to save their four-year-old son, who also died. Junichi Takashima lost his wife, a tour guide. Yesterday, they won their near-six-year fight for compensation when the Court of First Instance ruled that Citizens Travel Agency, based in Central, was liable for the fatal accident during a pleasure cruise off the Philippine capital. Seven Hong Kong tourists died when their boat, the King Roger, capsized in 1.5-metre waves, dumping its 42 passengers into the water, half an hour into a 'Sunset Cruise of Manila Bay' on August 15, 1997. Mr Ho's wife, bank manager Chan Nga-moon, 32, and their son Vernan Ho Yuk-lun, four, drowned along with Mr Takashima's wife, Leung Po-wan, 39. The tragedy also claimed the lives of Lam Weng-sun, 72, Wong Suk-ching, 54, Leung Ho-ching, 41, and Chak Yuk-ming, 12. The incident moved the then Philippine president, Fidel Ramos, to send a message to Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa expressing his 'deepest sympathies and sorrow' over 'such needless deaths'. A subsequent inquiry into the tragedy by the Philippine coastguard found the King Roger was 'woefully overloaded', being licensed to carry only 17 passengers. The inquiry concluded the cause of the accident was the overloading and the unauthorised addition of an upper deck to the vessel. In January 1998, Coroner Ian Thomas recorded a verdict of accidental death. Yesterday, Mr Justice Azizul Suffiad ruled that Citizens Travel Agency was liable for the accident. He ordered damages to be assessed at a later date. Mr Ho, 40, and Mr Takashima are believed to have been seeking $10 million damages. In ruling the agency had to pay compensation to the families, Mr Justice Suffiad found there was a contractual relationship between the agency and each tour member. Under that contract, the company was obliged to provide the promised itinerary as well as to ensure reasonable safety for the tour group. The court was told Citizens Travel used Philippines-based Landmark Travels and Tours to organise the harbour cruise. Mr Justice Suffiad said 'there can be no question but that Landmark was negligent' but he said that did not absolve Citizens Travel of its primary obligation to the tour members. He added no one from Citizens Travel had gone to the Philippines to look into the safety of the boats used for the cruises, nor were any inquiries made about the boats' licensed capacity. 'Therefore, whether it was the failing of Citizens Travel Agency or Landmark or both of them does not matter,' he said. 'Citizens Travel Agency must be liable for such breach of duty.' Mr Justice Suffiad also cleared tour group leader Ching Long-sing of any liability. 'There was precious little he could do, let alone stop the cruise,' the judge said.