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Accidents and personal safety in Hong Kong

Hong Kong’s worst maritime accidents: from Lamma ferry crash on National Day 2012 to fire on former luxury liner Queen Elizabeth

  • Blaze on Vietnam-registered Aulac Fortune off the coast of Lamma Island on Tuesday killed one crewman with two others still missing
  • Emergency crew needed five hours to put the fire out
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 2:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 January, 2019, 10:38pm

At least one crewman was killed, seven others injured and two were still missing after an oil tanker fire off the coast of Lamma Island in Hong Kong on Tuesday.

Emergency personnel had to rescue sailors who had either fallen or jumped into the sea from the Vietnam-registered Aulac Fortune after the blaze started soon after 11.30am. Emergency crew needed five hours to put the fire out.

In 2017, 368 marine accidents occurred within Hong Kong waters, 17 of which were fires or explosions, according to statistics from the Marine Department. Two people were injured in those fires.

Here, we look at some of the major maritime accidents with Hong Kong connections down the years.

2018: Sanchi oil tanker blaze, East China Sea

On January 6, 2018, the Sanchi, an Iranian oil tanker carrying 136,000 tonnes of highly toxic light crude oil, collided with a Hong Kong-registered bulk freighter, setting the ship ablaze and killing all 32 Iranian crew members on board. Efforts to contain the fire and locate crew members took more than a week, but the ship eventually drifted towards Japan and sank on January 14.

The accident caused an oil slick covering an area of 100 square kilometres – roughly the size of Paris – in one of China’s richest fishing grounds.

2015: Macau-Hong Kong high-speed ferry crash

A total of 124 people were injured when a high-speed ferry returning to Hong Kong from Macau collided with a floating object near Lantau Island on October 25, 2015. The collision cut off the power on the boat, leaving the 163 passengers and 11 crew to scramble for life jackets in the dark as water began seeping into the vessel. A rubber tyre found near the crash site was suspected of causing the accident.

2012: Collision between Lamma IV and the Sea Smooth, Hong Kong

On October 1, 2012, 39 people were killed and 101 injured when the passenger ferry Sea Smooth and a Hong Kong Electric Company vessel, the Lamma IV, collided off the coast of Lamma Island. The Sea Smooth had been ferrying passengers from the island to Central for the National Day fireworks when the accident occurred.

It was the deadliest boat accident in Hong Kong in 40 years, and the Lamma IV captain served nine months in jail for endangering the safety of others at sea, but was cleared of manslaughter charges. The captain of the passenger ferry Sea Smooth, Lai Sai-ming, was sentenced to eight years in prison for manslaughter.

2008: Collision between Yao Hai and the Neftegaz 67, Hong Kong

On March 22, 2008, 18 Ukrainian crew members of the Neftegaz 67 drowned after the tugboat heading to an oilfield south of Hong Kong collided with the Chinese ship Yao Hai off Brothers Island near Hong Kong International Airport. Seven other crew members, including one Chinese, managed to escape. The bodies of the crew members were only recovered a month later when the tugboat was raised from the seabed. Yuriy Kulemesin, the Ukrainian ship captain, was sentenced to 18 months’ jail in 2003.

1993: New Orient Princess fire, Hong Kong

More than 500 passengers were evacuated from the New Orient Princess on August 25, 1993 when a sauna heater caught fire on board. Three fire boats, 18 police boats and a Royal Navy Ship were used in the rescue effort aboard the gambling cruise ship, which ferried passengers into international waters to avoid Hong Kong’s gambling laws. It took firefighters almost 10 days to put out the fire as they could not board the ship due to the intense heat. Two people were injured in the incident.

1986: Ap Lei Chau Typhoon Shelter fire

More than 900 Hongkongers living on boats in a typhoon shelter were left homeless after a fire broke out and destroyed about 150 junks and sampans moored too close together. The fire was put out within four hours, with only two injuries.

1972: Seawise University fire

A floating university repurposed from the luxury liner Queen Elizabeth was quickly reduced to scrap when several fires broke out on different decks of the ship on January 9, 1972 during a lunch party on board. More than 500 people had to be evacuated and the fire took about nine hours to be fully extinguished. The ship finally sank in the harbour, where it remained for two years before being sold as scrap.

1971: Fire on floating restaurant Jumbo

Thirty people and four children died after a fire aboard the floating restaurant Jumbo broke out on October 30, 1971. It was estimated that 234 people were aboard when the blaze broke out in an aquarium in the ship’s lower deck as workers rushed to complete the restaurant to meet a deadline.

A spark from an electrical welder caused the highly flammable imitation rocks in the aquarium to catch fire, which could not be put out with the broken fire extinguisher on board. The whole vessel was subsequently engulfed in flames and the fire spread to several junks and sampans nearby.

1971: Fat Shan ferry sinking

The Fat Shan ferry sank when Typhoon Rose struck Hong Kong on August 16, 1971, causing 88 people to drown. The vessel had been sailing between Macau and Hong Kong and was battered and dragged by the wind after its anchor broke, eventually sinking off Lantau Island.