Outrage over human errors in Hong Kong boat crash

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Ferry passenger Chris Head said he was thrown off his feet on the open upper rear deck. He said the collision felt like “walking into a lamppost.”

“Then someone else on the boat pointed out a dark shape moving away from us and said, ‘I think we just hit a boat,’” said Mr. Head, a teacher who has lived on nearby Lamma Island for 18 years.

The other boat was already listing, and aside from two tiny lights, it “just was not lit at all. We couldn’t see anyone on it,” Mr. Head said. He said he couldn’t be sure that the lights had been off before the crash.

After Mr. Head and the other passengers put on their life jackets, he saw that the other boat had started to “go into a sort of Titanic pose vertically.”

Mr. Head said the ferry itself was listing slightly and taking on water. He said the captain kept the ferry in the area for five to 10 minutes before leaving.

But he added: “I’m not saying that he was making any effort to rescue. I don’t know about that.”

Capt. Yeung, who is not involved in the investigation, said standard maritime protocol requires ships to stay with other damaged boats and help if they can, even if only to call for help. He said the Sea Smooth’s captain might not have been aware of this duty or may have panicked, worried about his own passengers.

“I will leave it to the judge to decide whether the captain is guilty or not, but I personally cannot accept (that he left the scene),” he said.

Capt. Yeung said that it was too early to know what caused the accident but that weather didn’t seem to be a factor on the relatively clear and calm night.

He said the lights of the skyline and other ships might have obscured the navigation lights on one or both of the ships that crashed, but the biggest factors appeared to be “careless mistakes” by both crews.

Three crew members from the Lamma IV and four from the Sea Smooth were arrested; all have been released on bail except the hospitalized Sea Smooth captain.

Police Commissioner Tsang Wai-hung said both crews are suspected of having not “exercised the care required of them by law,” but he did not elaborate.

Capt. Yeung said he suspects the ferry captain may not have been paying enough attention.

“If people run on the same route every day, several times a day, they become overconfident. They become very slack,” he said.

At the same time, he said the Lamma IV’s captain might have been moving too fast to secure a good position for the fireworks show.

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