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Lamma ferry crash

Lamma ferry disaster captain jailed for eight years over collision that left 39 Hong Kong partygoers dead

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 February, 2015, 12:26pm
UPDATED : Monday, 16 February, 2015, 5:30pm

Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry’s Sea Smooth skipper Lai Sai-ming was jailed this afternoon for eight years for manslaughter and endangering the safety of others at sea in the 2012 Lamma ferry disaster that killed 39 passengers.

Mr Justice Brian Keith also sentenced Hongkong Electric’s Lamma IV captain Chow Chi-wai to jail for nine months for endangering the safety of others at sea.

In mitigation submissions, barrister Audrey Campbell-Moffat SC, for Sea Smooth skipper Lai, said that the 56-year-old had spent his entire working life in local waters.

She said that Lai was "a man of good character", who had never committed any offences before the collision.

Without going into detail, she added that there might be others reasons, as the evidence in court had shown, that contributed to the 39 deaths.

Gerard McCoy SC, for Chow, said that his colleagues praised the 58-year-old skipper as a “responsible, calm and safe” person.

The court heard that a survivor of the collision submitted to Keith a letter acclaiming Chow, who is married with two daughters, for his dedication to his duties as he tried his best to comfort the Lamma IV passengers after the collision.

“The factual basis for the sentencing should ... sufficiently engage the reality that Mr Chow was a victim of the appallingly dangerous navigation of the Sea Smooth,” McCoy said.

“What he omitted to do did not cause the collision. The collision was caused by the second and the third turn of the Sea Smooth.”

WATCH: Lamma ferry disaster - the deadliest boat accident in Hong Kong in 40 years

The barrister also submitted that Chow was only guilty of a short period of inactiveness which was inconsequential to the collision.

On Saturday, Lai was convicted by a nine-strong jury by a majority verdict of 7 to 2 for 39 counts of manslaughter, and unanimously for endangering the safety of others at sea.

Chow, however, was acquitted of manslaughter by a majority verdict of 8 to 1 but convicted of endangering the safety of others at sea by the ratio of 7 to 2.

The jury deliberated for almost four days before returning the verdicts. The pair were captaining the two vessels which collided off Lamma Island on October 1, 2012. The crash killed 39 passengers, including eight children.

After learning of the verdicts, photographer Ryan Tsui Chi-shing, who lost his elder brother Tsui Chi-wai and niece Tsui Hoi-ying, 10, vowed “never to forgive” Chow and Lai.

“Even if there was capital punishment in Hong Kong, it won’t be enough,” he said. “I won’t show them any sympathy. It doesn’t matter what punishment the court passes.”

Irene Cheng, whose son Thomas Koo Man-cheung died in the crash, said: “To be honest, the rulings can’t compensate for the loss of 39 lives.”

Both legal teams said after the verdicts that they had not decided whether to appeal.

During the trial, the prosecution team, led by Andrew Bruce SC, accused the two mariners of being “grossly negligent” in their navigation that contributed to the deaths. They said the pair had breached the duty of care to their passengers by failing to keep a proper lookout, or to take any effective collision avoidance measures.

Chow’s legal team, however, tried to establish before the jury that his continuous efforts to avert the collision were cancelled out by the more manoeuvrable catamaran captained by Lai.

They asserted that the Lamma IV had turned right three times by about 50 degrees in accordance with the international collision regulations, while the Sea Smooth violated the rules and turned left by 21 degrees.

Lai’s legal team argued that a missing watertight door could be the cause of the Lamma IV’s rapid sinking. The heavy death toll could be due to loose chairs that fell when the passenger launch tilted upwards, and the difficulty of accessing life jackets.