Hong Kong must heed the lessons of Lamma ferry disaster
The Lamma ferry disaster that killed 39 people on National Day two years ago may seem like a memory now. But for those who lost their loved ones in the accident, the grief and pain linger on. Yesterday, the two vessel operators were finally jailed for their roles in the tragedy. Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry's Sea Smooth skipper Lai Sai-ming was given eight years for manslaughter and endangering the safety of others at sea; Hongkong Electric's Lamma IV captain Chow Chi-wai was sentenced to nine months' in jail for endangering safety.
The outcome cannot bring back innocent lives or heal the scars of those who have been traumatised by the tragedy. But it should at least bring some comfort to those who have been seeking redress over the past 28 months.
The episode is far from over, though. The court heard that the actions taken by the pair that evening were only part of a bigger scandal leading to the city's worst marine disaster. Earlier, a commission of inquiry found that serious systemic failings within the Marine Department had contributed to the accident. This was also the finding of a separate government probe, which criticised the department for a wide range of malpractices built up from generations of slack oversight and inaction. Although the investigations have long been completed, the victims' families are still in the dark about what exactly went wrong. All we know is that some 17 marine officials, ranging from frontline to directorate rank, are suspected of misconduct and liable to prosecution; charges may be brought by the end of the month. The development will no doubt be closely followed by the aggrieved families and the community. Justice will not be seen to be done until those who contributed to the tragedy are also held accountable.
Separately, many safety measures recommended in the wake of the accident have yet to be implemented, apparently due to industry resistance, manpower shortages and red tape. That it took the loss of human lives to spur the improvements is regrettable, even more so if those responsible for marine safety are still dragging their feet. The last thing we need is another tragedy to push the process forward. The disaster is a lesson for everyone. It is to be hoped that the aggrieved will soon find closure through the administration of justice. More importantly, we need to ensure such a terrible accident will not happen again.