A late action taken by the coxswain of Sea Smooth was an act of "last-minute panic" rather than a conscious attempt at averting a collision, a naval expert said yesterday. Captain Nigel Pryke was appearing at the commission of inquiry into the National Day sea tragedy that killed 39 people for the third time, after hearing evidence from the coxswains of both vessels involved in the collision. "I think the action taken [by Sea Smooth coxswain Lai Sai-ming] was just so late that it wasn't a practical collision-avoidance action. It was just a last minute panic," he said. Lai earlier said he had made a starboard turn to avoid colliding with Lamma IV. However, Pryke said he maintained the view expressed in his first expert report, that Lai had made a wrong turn to port side - which he described as a "fatal manoeuvre". Lamma IV’s skipper Chow Chi-wai said earlier that he made full turn to starboard about 30 seconds before the collision with the public ferry Sea Smooth. But Pryke, a commission appointed expert, said it was just seven seconds before the crash. The British maritime expert also said he wanted to amend his first report, to add that Chow, as well as Lai, had failed to keep a proper lookout on the radar. Chow said he had looked at the radar once. Pryke believed if Chow had watched more frequently, he would have seen the wrong turn made by Sea Smooth. Pryke also criticised the owner of Lamma IV, Hongkong Electric, for deploying an employee, Lai Ho-yin, who had no maritime experience, to make up the crew of four, as required by Marine Department. He said this was "totally unacceptable". The commission heard earlier that Lai Ho-yin took three lifebuoys and jumped from the Lamma IV as it sank. Pryke also criticised the design of Sea Smooth's wheelhouse for placing the radar on the right hand side of the conning chair, instead of in front of it. "A primary school class could come up with a better design," he said. He added that the practice of the ferry's crew to casually sit around the wheelhouse was "outrageous" and "ridiculous". He said one crew member should have been designated to sit beside the captain to help with the lookout. In his second expert report, Pryke outlined a series of suggested improvements to harbour management and safety appliances. He said more training was required for ferry crews, especially on radar use. "It is striking that both coxswains involved seemed to be unaware of the high degree of attention required when vessels are approaching each other at high speed," he said. He also proposed that vessels carrying more than 100 passengers should be equipped with radars and very high frequency radio to communicate with the Marine Department. Their crew should also participate in the vessel traffic system so they would be alerted to collision risks. After meetings with the Marine Department, he said it was reviewing ferries' manning level and crew qualification requirements. The hearing continues today. This is an amended version of the article that originally appeared in the print edition of the South China Morning Post.