Sampan operator Thomas Lai cannot help but sigh when he looks at Hong Kong’s famed Jumbo Floating Restaurant, a forlorn, silent figure in Aberdeen Harbour now shorn of the glitter and glamour that marked its heyday as one of the city’s unique attractions. Having spent more than half of his life ferrying tourists from a nearby pier to the restaurant, the thought of having to part with the 46-year-old landmark is too much for Lai to bear. The 63-year-old hopes someone will come forward to save the sinking ship after its operator recently announced plans to exit Hong Kong this month because of a lack of funds to keep the structure in good condition. Talks between operators on continuing the struggling business as part of Ocean Park also failed. The 30-metre kitchen barge connected to the boat capsized on Wednesday, compounding the restaurant’s woes and aggravating its poor state of affairs. This is a far cry from the days when the place, identifiable by its large green and red neon sign, was packed with revellers well into the night. “How can I bear to let it go? This is a landmark which has helped boost Hong Kong’s economy, from tourism and catering to the hotel industry,” Lai said. “Without a landmark, how do you attract tourists to Hong Kong? They can go to other countries to look for a distinctive experience.” Lai is among many Hongkongers who have a deep, emotional connection to the attraction and have called for “white knights” to come to its rescue, saying it would be a great loss if authorities allowed the floating restaurant to quit the city. During its heyday, Jumbo had served millions, including Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and film stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Tom Cruise and Chow Yun-fat. Lai was able to ferry more than 200 tourists a day back then, earning thousands of dollars. “But now I only earn a few hundred a day being a water taxi and ferrying fishermen or shipowners to their yachts,” he lamented. The restaurant has been closed since early 2020, with its owner reporting an accumulated loss in excess of HK$100 million (US$12.74 million) after the Covid-19 outbreak devastated the tourism and catering industries already under strain since the social unrest in 2019. Choi Pat-tai, 86, president of Pak Shing Travel, said Jumbo had been a “must-see” attraction for tourists from around the world. “Jumbo was a must for tourists. Everybody loved it, men and women, young and old,” the veteran tour guide said. “They enjoyed feeling like an emperor or empress in a palace. The great variety of seafood feast there also amazed them.” Choi was referring to an “emperor’s room” where customers could dress up as ancient Chinese emperors and other royals and take pictures. “Jumbo is a treasure for Hong Kong, giving visitors an exceptional taste of the special Chinese culture. The city’s officials should resort to every means to conserve and invigorate it,” he said. Jumbo was opened in 1976 by the late Macau casino tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun, and is run under Hong Kong-listed owner Melco International Development’s subsidiary Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises. The group later acquired the adjacent Tai Pak Floating Restaurant in 1987 and together the two restaurants, located in Aberdeen Typhoon Shelter on the south side of Hong Kong Island, are collectively known as Jumbo Kingdom. Surrounded by small fishing boats and luxury yachts, the 76-metre-long floating restaurant occupied 45,000 square feet over three storeys, and could seat 2,300 diners. Built in the style of a Ming dynasty imperial palace, the red, gold and green building floats in the middle of the harbour, adorned in dragons and pagodas, as a snippet of ancient Chinese architecture in Hong Kong. Over the years, the dragon throne in the largest banquet hall and the mural on the second floor proved the biggest attractions. With both an appearance and interior like an imperial palace, it has featured in films such as James Bond’s The Man With the Golden Gun (1974), Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011), Jackie Chan’s The Protector (1985), Stephen Chow Sing-chi’s The God of Cookery (1996), and Infernal Affairs II (2003). Southern district councillor Jonathan Leung Chun also urged the government to provide various means of support to keep Jumbo afloat in Hong Kong as part of its plan to revitalise the area. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had said in her policy address in 2020 that Jumbo would be a key feature in the Invigorating Island South project as cultural heritage in Ocean Park. Hong Kong lawmakers in call to help Jumbo Floating Restaurant as barge capsizes “Without Jumbo, part of the project such as water tourism in Southern district will be in vain. If it can be preserved in Hong Kong, it can create a synergy effect with Ocean Park,” he said. Lo Kin-hei, of the opposition Democratic Party and a former chairman of Southern District Council, said it would be a great pity if the government let go of the floating restaurant, an attraction unique to Hong Kong. “If the government sees its value, it should step in to take over this boat,” he said.