Lamma ferry crash

Sea Smooth captain breaks silence over death crash

Skipper appears at inquiry after refusing to talk to police since the fatal collision

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 23 February, 2013, 4:14am

The captain of the Sea Smooth yesterday broke his silence over the Lamma ferry tragedy for the first time.

Lai Sai-ming has even refused to talk to the police since being arrested in hospital for endangering the safety of others the morning after the Sea Smooth was in a collision with Hongkong Electric's Lamma IV.

Eight children and 31 adults, who had been on board the Lamma IV en route to watch the National Day fireworks on October 1, died.

Yesterday, Lai appeared before the commission of inquiry. He gave simple acknowledgements as a statement he had given to lawyers representing the crew of the Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry's catamaran was read.

Lai is due to appear before the inquiry again on Monday when he is expected to be subject to questioning.

The inquiry heard that in his statement of October 4, he said: "I have navigated between Central Pier and Lamma Island hundreds of times."

Lai, a captain since 1997, also said the 28-metre catamaran was "easy to manoeuvre". The commission heard Lai worked on a 24-hour-shift basis, and was off the day before the collision.

He woke up at 6.20am on October 1 after 7½ hours' sleep, and boarded the Sea Smooth to begin his day at 7.30am. He skippered the catamaran from Central to Ping Chau once and did six round trips between Central and Lamma Island that day.

Unlike the three crew members on Lamma IV, Lai had a valid radar licence, although he told the inquiry he did not normally use radar in fine weather.

He also had first-aid and firefighting certificates.

Meanwhile, Leung Tai-yau, a sailor on the Lamma IV, confirmed his skipper alerted him about the approaching Sea Smooth.

He blamed previous contradictory statements on his mind going blank after the crash.

No charges have been brought over the collision.