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Hong Kong housing

Marine Department interrogates eviction-threatened families at Hong Kong’s Discovery Bay Marina Club

  • Officers looking into allegations of people illegally using boats as homes
  • Members have already been told to clear out of the marina by the end of the year, for renovation
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 8:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 10:39am

Hong Kong authorities have visited a marina which is home to some 200 eviction-threatened houseboat families, to investigate complaints of people living in boats illegally.

It was the latest twist in a running controversy at the Discovery Bay Marina Club, which has already drawn the ire of many members with plans to remove them before the end of the year.

One resident, Ueli Tschupp-Lambert, said on Monday the Marine Department officers visited him and his family last Thursday morning.

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Tschupp-Lambert, whose family has lived on a boat in the marina since 2008, said officers interviewed him and his wife for three hours about whether they had been breaking the law by using their yacht “not for pleasure purposes”.

“We are already being evicted,” he said. “People are scared. They are losing their livelihood and everything, and now we are being harassed by these government officials. This is beyond anything that I’d ever heard of or experienced. It’s really sad.”

The club, owned by Hong Kong Resort Company, a principal subsidiary of HKR International (HKRI), told members on August 31 they would need to move their boats out by December 31 as the club closed for major renovation. As complaints mounted, the club later offered to extend the deadline for three more months, for a fee.

The club, which began in 1989 in the residential development of Discovery Bay on Lantau Island, did not tell the members whether they could move back in after the renovation.

Under Hong Kong law, a Class IV vessel – including yachts, cruisers and open cruisers – shall be used exclusively for pleasure purposes. It is not legal for such a vessel to be used solely as a dwelling. Offenders can be fined HK$10,000 (US$1,300).

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All the Discovery Bay houseboats are Class IV vessels.

The laws also specifically forbid using a vessel as a home, unless the owner got a licence to do so before the regulation was introduced in 2007. Anyone who breaks this rule can face a fine of HK$5,000 and six months in prison.

Tschupp-Lambert said the marine officers asked him to sign a document after the interview, but he refused. The document, seen by the Post, said the interviewing officers “have reason to believe that your vessel ... did committing [sic] an offence of ‘using a Class IV vessel not for pleasure purposes’”.

The document said the interviewee might be prosecuted.

A club spokeswoman said it understood that the department visited to investigate complaints that some owners had been living on their boats. She said the club did not initiate, and was not involved in, the investigation.

Another houseboat owner, who requested anonymity because residents were nervous about talking to the media, said he was not personally interviewed by the marine officers.

But he urged the officers to target the management of the club, which he said had misled residents into believing living on a boat was legal.

“When I purchased the boat, I had no idea that there was even a remote chance of this not being legal,” he said. “If [the officers] really are serious about it, then go after the one that has actually led us to believe that this was all fine.”

The Post saw documents issued by the club which showed the club had been charging houseboats a “live onboard berth premium”, which was later called a “stay onboard premium”.

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The club spokeswoman said “live onboard” was an “industry-standard term” meaning that any crew member might stay on the boat, no matter if it was anchored or sailing.

“This is a concept different from ‘dwelling’, which means making the vessel a permanent residence,” she said.

The Marine Department said it would not comment on individual cases.

Tschupp-Lambert, who runs a security consultancy business from his boat, said he had written to the Office of the Ombudsman to complain about the eviction and ask whether his company would be removed by force from the marina by deadline.