Set up an independent transport safety board to investigate accidents in Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 August, 2015, 10:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 August, 2015, 10:00am

Mike Rowse makes valid points in his article, "No room for complacency in an efficient HK" (August 17). However, he raises more questions. In the case of the Lamma accident, there were shortcomings, as found by the commission of inquiry into the collision of vessels near Lamma Island, the report of which is still only available in redacted format due to ongoing and possible legal proceedings.

Why did the government need to appoint an independent commission, and why was the Marine Department so deficient?

The answer may lie in the way government bodies are regulated. Both in the case of aviation and marine incidents, the relevant Hong Kong departments carry out the investigation and invariably end up investigating themselves, which is a conflict of interest.

Jurisdictions in other countries appoint independent transport safety boards to investigate accidents without apportioning blame, but to make recommendations. The benefit is that objective reports are issued quickly, with recommendations to enhance transport safety. The US has the National Transportation Safety Board investigating accidents involving aviation, marine, serious road traffic and pipeline accidents, reporting directly to Congress.

Closer to home, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan all have independent accident investigation bodies reporting directly to their respective governments.

The Hong Kong government saw fit to appoint a commission for the Lamma collision, so it recognises that, in serious cases, an independent assessment is necessary. The commission acknowledged the advice from an expert witness who recommended that the accident investigation should be removed from purview of the Marine Department, in line with the International Maritime Organisation's standard and recommended practices. Yet, it said that an independent accident investigation board may not be appropriate for Hong Kong due to the small scale of activities.

Instead, it recommended that an independent investigator be appointed, reporting to the marine director. This goes against best practices and has many transport safety experts, of which Hong Kong has many, shaking their heads in disbelief.

Hong Kong is one of the world's largest transport hubs. If it truly considers itself to be Asia's World City, it's time it followed international practices and appointed a fully independent transport safety board to investigate air, marine, rail and serious road traffic incidents, reporting directly to the chief executive.

Simon Ludlow, Lantau