Families of Lamma ferry victims recruit senior counsel for possible private lawsuit against 17 Marine Department officials
Bereaved relatives of victims killed in the 2012 Lamma ferry disaster have hired a senior counsel to study the feasibility of private prosecution, after the Department of Justice's decision not to charge government officials implicated in the incident, a lawmaker says.
Bringing a private lawsuit against the 17 Marine Department officials was not ideal, given the few precedents, resources required and lack of investigative powers exclusive to authorities, according to James To Kun-sun of the Democratic Party, who has been helping the families.
But it was an option if the plaintiffs could be assured the government would supply all the information necessary for private prosecution, To said yesterday.
That assurance came from Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung after a three-hour meeting with the families on Wednesday night.
Yuen said if the families initiated private prosecution and obtained a court order, his department would provide the required information to their counsel.
Irene Cheng, who lost her 24-year-old son to the National Day tragedy, said: "It is impossible that no one needs to take responsibility for the absence of a watertight door, because [the officials] are responsible for approving design plans." The lack of such a door between compartments in the Lamma IV was identified as a factor in the vessel's swift sinking after its collision with the Sea Smooth on October 1, 2012.
To said any evidence showing no watertight door existed before the Lamma IV was inspected on November 13, 1995, would be key in proving "reckless inadvertence" on the part of marine inspectors who passed the checks regardless. He said this would be a threshold for prosecution.
But the families' best option would be for the justice department to revisit its decision not to press charges, he said.
This was why they were urging police to offer a reward to get hold of a key piece of evidence that was hitherto unknown until the Wednesday meeting.
In one of Hong Kong's worst maritime disasters, 39 Lamma IV passengers died, including eight children. A total of 92 passengers on both boats were injured.
The justice department said it would not lay further charges - a decision agreed by independent senior counsel Andrew Bruce - because of insufficient evidence to back any reasonable prospect of convicting vessel inspectors of misconduct in public office.
To cited Bruce as saying on Wednesday that some evidence given to an earlier commission of inquiry could have been useful in prosecuting the officials, but these materials could not be used for prosecution under laws governing the commission.
The materials included a statement by a senior inspector of the Marine Department.
Police said last night they would launch an investigation if there was further evidence.