Police arrested seven crew members involved in a ferry collision in Hong Kong that left 38 people dead and has raised questions about safety on one of the world’s busiest harbours.
The crash, which marred celebrations of China’s National Day holiday, was the deadliest marine incident in Hong Kong since 1971 and also left more than 100 people injured, including four still in a serious or stable condition. It occurred at 8.20pm local time on Monday close to Lamma Island, which sits off the southwest coast of Hong Kong Island.
The Lamma IV, a private vessel owned by the Hong Kong Electric company and filled with more than 120 people, including many families, was setting off for Victoria Harbour so passengers could watch a huge fireworks display above the city.
Not long after leaving a the island, the Lamma IV and Sea Smooth, a passenger ferry owned by the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry Company, collided.
Investigators said it was too early to determine what caused the collision but today police arrested crew members from each of the vessels on suspicion of endangering passengers by not operating the vessels safely.
"We suspect that somebody did not fulfill their responsibility, that's why we made the arrests," Police Commissioner Andy Tsang told reporters. "We do not rule out the possibility that further arrests will be made."
The Lamma IV immediately began taking on water and survivors said it took less than 10 minutes to sink, giving passengers little chance to escape. All of those who died had been on board the Lamma IV.
The Sea Smooth managed to dock safely despite suffering damage. None of its passengers reported serious injuries.
A huge rescue effort involving divers, rescue boats and helicopters worked through the night and today, managing to recover scores of survivors from the water. Bad weather and strong currents have hampered the rescue effort but authorities have said it would continue for at least two more days.
Tonight the government confirmed that 38 people had died and 101 had been sent to hospital. Five of the dead were reported to have been children.
Asia’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, owns the Hong Kong Electric company and according to a statement released yesterday by his son the company has promised to pay about £16,000 compensation to the families of each of the deceased.
Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung ordered an independent investigation into the crash but denied maritime safety in the harbour was flawed.
“This is definitely an isolated incident,” he told reporters at a press conference. “The marine territory of Hong Kong is safe."
But Albert Lai, a trained civil engineer and chairman of The Professional Commons, a think tank, told Agence France-Presse that the deadly crash should lead to a review of marine traffic systems.
"People will start querying whether Hong Kong's marine traffic management has been kept up to pace," he said. "It certainly affects Hong Kong's international reputation as a shipping hub."
In 2011, more than 204,000 vessels arrived in Hong Kong, an average of nearly 550 each day, according to Marine Department figures. These included huge container vessels and cruise ships, which must navigate a harbour and shipping channels teaming with pleasure craft, passenger ferries, smaller cargo boats and fishing vessels.
The Hong Kong government has declared three days of mourning starting from Thursday.