Letters to the Editor, November 3, 2015

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 November, 2015, 5:42pm
UPDATED : Monday, 02 November, 2015, 5:42pm

Reconsider insurance limit for boats

The Hong Kong Bar Association has been pressing for some time to increase the compulsory insurance limits for all marine vessels, especially the high-speed vessels. These vessels often carry as many as 300 passengers and, as they weigh less than 300 tonnes, the compulsory insurance coverage is very low.

In the recent accident involving the high-speed ferry Horta, quite a number of passengers were seriously injured. The owners of this vessel will be able to limit their liability to as low as HK$260,000 per passenger, notwithstanding that claims may run into millions of dollars.

This arises because under the Athens Convention, this is "regional transport" and the limitation is fixed at 46,666 special drawing rights under Article 7 of the convention - see Hong Kong's Merchant Shipping (Limitation of Shipowners Liability) Ordinance. When converted to Hong Kong dollars, the sum is about HK$260,000.

Thus, there is a huge disparity between, say, a high-speed ferry and a 130-seat bus. Bus companies cannot limit the payout to an individual passenger to the sum of HK$260,000. This is bizarre.

According to the Marine Department, about 40 million passenger journeys a year are undertaken on these vessels under 300 tonnes, and the number is growing exponentially.

So, obviously, the compulsory limits should be increased and the limitation per passenger removed.

This can be done easily by the adoption of Article 7(2) by which the Athens Convention allows local jurisdictions to afford better protection to passengers than afforded to them by means of this convention. This means the limitation per passenger could be substantially increased or made unlimited.

Further, it is obvious that these ferries should be required to make passengers wear safety belts at all times when going at a high speed. One has to in a private car on a motorway, so why not a fast-moving ferry?

If this terrible accident was indeed caused by such a small thing as a floating tyre, then seat belts should be worn at all times.

Nicholas Pirie, member of the Bar Association's personal injuries and insurance practice committee


Race-baiting column missing facts

Yonden Lhatoo is at least honest in acknowledging his own prejudice as motivation for his clearly racist views ("It's time we put an end to Hong Kong's white worship", October 30). However, he is long on anecdotes of white kids getting preferred for school teams (how he knows this he doesn't say) and short on evidence.

What we do know is that there was (quite rightly) a deliberate government programme of localisation in the civil service before the handover. No sign of "white worship" there. This was a government policy of positive discrimination.

When my wife and I adopted our Chinese child in Hong Kong, there was a hierarchy within the process of Chinese couples given first preference, mixed couples second, Caucasian and other ethnicities third. We had no problem with this. No sign of white worship in the government's official adoption procedure.

When we applied for a Hong Kong passport for our other adopted child of mixed race, the Immigration Department denied it because he had "no Chinese blood". No sign of white worship there.

Asia's "world city" can only lose from the sort of divisiveness that Mr Lhatoo is trying to stir up. Race-baiting opinion pieces such as these make for unedifying reading.

Chris White, Mui Wo


HKU council hurting name of university

As a University of Hong Kong alumnus, I am concerned about the unfolding saga in relation to the appointment of a pro-vice-chancellor.

First of all, as an institution funded by tax payers, HKU has an obligation to explain to the public the rationale behind the rejection of the search committee's recommendation to appoint Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun to the post.

Are we supposed to believe that the search committee made an error after investing so much time, tax dollars and internal/external expertise to identify Professor Chan as the most suitable candidate?

The HKU council cannot and should not hide behind its "confidentiality rules", a subject which is not even mentioned in the University of Hong Kong Ordinance. If the Legislative Council believed the HKU council requires such powers, they would have been incorporated into the ordinance.

Secondly, if a PhD was mandatory requirement for those applying for the pro-vice-chancellor post, that should have been clearly mentioned at the outset.

Finally, the enthusiasm shown by the council chairman in obtaining an injunction against publication of the leaked audio tapes from the council meeting is surprising. In contrast, the council dragged its feet for a long time to make a final decision after the search committee's recommendation to appoint Professor Chan became public.

The chairman Dr Leong Che-hung said he did not seek the views of other members before applying for the injunction. The University of Hong Kong Ordinance does not give such dictatorial decision-making power to the chairman.

Unfortunately, the current council is inflicting irreparable damage to the whole university due to its opposition to a single individual.

Nalaka Jayaratne, Farmington, Connecticut, US

Let companies do more for staff fitness

Many Hong Kong people lack exercise, primarily due to their heavy workload.

People should set up a regular timetable for exercise and try to follow it.

But more to the point, companies should understand the gravity of the situation and do something about the problem. They should organise a range of sport activities to encourage their employees to take part. This will also increase employees' sense of belonging in the company. I think if the companies take this initiative, it would greatly improve the situation.

Au Kit Yan, Yau Yat Chuen


US, China need economic restructuring

I agree with Stephen Roach that the economic relationship between China and the US should shift from codependency to interdependency ("Are China and the US heading for a break-up?", October 1).

Tension between China and the US is increasing in almost every aspect: renminbi depreciation, cyberhacking, naval confrontation in the South China Sea. Though Xi Jinping's state visit to the US was seen as a great success, it didn't ease the tension. Less than a month after Xi's visit, US warships were dispatched to cruise in the South China Sea, risking a clash.

The so-called economic interdependence of these two powers appears to have failed to head off potential conflict.

Therefore, we should revaluate their economic relationship. Their asymmetric relation - seen in China's overdependence on its cheap domestic labour, exploitation of abundant natural resources and pollution of the environment - has made the relationship pretty fragile.

On the one hand, low salaries limit Chinese consumers' ability to buy American goods. On the other hand, cheap Chinese goods resulted in excessive consumption in US, which to some degree caused the financial crisis. Both Chinese and American citizens suffer from the codependency.

To solve this problem, both countries should restructure their economies. The US should revive its manufacturing, not only to raise its employment, but also to provide moderately priced goods. China should change its mode of development and turn to producing high-value-added products, as well as reduce pollution, raise salaries and promote domestic consumption.

Only when the two countries have built a healthy economic system can interdependency benefit both.

Austin Gong, Tai Wai


Opt-out is no option in free societies

Many people have pointed out the potential problems of an opt-out scheme to increase the number of organ donors. I agree with them.

Such a scheme can lead to conflict between medical personnel and the families who may still subscribe to the traditional Chinese belief that the body should remain intact after death.

It may also infringe on our human rights. Without the full, explicit permission of donors, there will always be the suspicion that someone's rights have been violated.

The opt-out scheme is not a feasible solution. Education is. Enhancing people's awareness of the issue and opening up minds via education will be the best way to tackle the shortage of donated organs.

Chow Hiu Ching, Fanling