Full report on Lamma ferry tragedy finally released, but Hong Kong victims' relatives still seek access to internal inquiry
The government has finally released the full report of the commission of inquiry into the Lamma ferry tragedy on the eve of the third anniversary of the disaster that killed 39 people.
But victims' families pressing for full disclosure of a separate internal government report - which was partly disclosed to them in April last year under a confidentiality agreement - were told there was insufficient evidence to charge 17 Marine Department officials implicated.
The families said they were disappointed with the Department of Justice's decision.
"It only shows that malpractice has been the standard practice in the government," said the representative of the families, Irene Cheng, whose 24-year-old son died in the disaster.
She was referring to the failure of Marine Department officials to keep any written record of inspections of vessels.
Asked if she felt the government was trying to mislead the public by choosing to disclose the full commission of inquiry report last night when the families were asking for the internal document, Cheng said she was unsurprised by the government’s decision.
“The government has all along been trying to protect their own people,” Cheng said.
The commission of inquiry into the collision on October 1, 2012 submitted the report to the chief executive in April 2013.
At that time, as manslaughter charges had been laid against the two coxswains involved, the government decided to redact parts of the report relating to issues concerning the responsibilities of the coxswains so as not to affect the criminal proceedings.
"Since all criminal proceedings that might be affected by the report have been concluded, the government, having considered legal advice, has uploaded the full (unredacted) report … for public information," a government statement read. But it made no mention about the release of the full internal government report.
Explaining the decision not to prosecute any public officials, the Department of Justice last night said that independent senior counsel Andrew Bruce and the department considered there was insufficient evidence at the moment to support any reasonable prospect of bringing convictions against vessel inspectors for misconduct in public office.
The relatives and lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who has been helping them, said they now knew from last night’s meeting that a key piece of evidence might change the Department of Justice’s decision on whether to bring charges. They therefore urged anyone with evidence that could prove whether a watertight door existed before an inspection of Lamma IV on 13 November 1995 to approach the police. The absence of a watertight door, they said, would be key in proving "reckless inadvertence" on the part of Marine Department inspectors, which would be a threshold for prosecution.
After the three-hour meeting, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said the department would review its decision should new evidence emerge.
The Hongkong and Kowloon Ferry's Sea Smooth, which had 62 passengers on board, crashed into the Hongkong Electric ferry Lamma IV, which was taking 124 passengers to view a National Day fireworks display. Some 39 Lamma IV passengers died, including eight children. A total of 92 passengers on both boats were injured.
Lai Sai-ming, captain of the Sea Smooth, was convicted of manslaughter and endangering the safety of others at sea. He was jailed for eight years in February. Chow Chi-wai, who was at the helm of the Lamma IV, was cleared of manslaughter but jailed for nine months for endangering safety at sea.
The unredacted report also concluded "Mr Lai was primarily responsible for the collision".
Additional reporting by Ng Kang-chung