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Hong Kong ferry toll hits 38
Publication Date : 03-10-2012
Crew members arrested as rescue and search operations continue
Seven crew members from two vessels have been arrested as the death toll from a ferry collision near Lamma Island in Hong Kong reached 38 yesterday.
Four survivors remained in critical condition and dozens were receiving treatment for injuries and trauma.
The number of passengers missing has yet to be confirmed. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government is contacting relatives and trying to determine just how many people were on board the two vessels.
It is the worst accident since the handover of Hong Kong in 1997.
An independent committee of inquiry will be set up to look into the cause.
The accident occurred when a ferry, owned by Assets Holdings Ltd., left Lamma Island for Central at around 8 p.m. to view the firework display above Victoria Harbour. It was struck by a catamaran owned by Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry Holdings Ltd. just off Lamma Island.
Dozens of passengers were thrown into the water by the impact. The damaged catamaran, taking on water, managed to make it to Lamma.
The Marine Department is investigating.
A spokesman for Assets Holdings Ltd. said the ferry was carrying 124 passengers, 121 of them were members of staff and their relatives. The ferry had three crew members.
Traumatised survivors were quickly wrapped in foil and treated by rescue teams.
"The ferry almost stood vertical in the water. Everything was a mess, tables and chairs were sliding," said a passenger. He had managed to rescue a little girl. His wife was missing.
"All the passengers were falling and sliding, some had been hit by objects and were submerged," recalled a middle-aged woman.
"The water was covering us very quickly. Some people may have been ..." she said, unable to finish.
An elderly passenger thought that she might not make it.
"My feet were stuck and I could not move. I was under water and I thought I was going to die. Then someone dragged me out, and I was able to put on a lifejacket. But people were trapped beneath me..." Her voice trailed off.
President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and Vice-President Xi Jinping expressed condolences to the families of the victims.
They asked the SAR government to do whatever was necessary to continue rescue and search efforts and provide assistance to survivors and families of the victims.
The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council said on Monday that the government will do everything possible to aid search and rescue efforts.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying dismissed concerns that the accident would damage Hong Kong's standing as an international maritime centre.
More than 350 rescue and search personnel were involved. A salvage vessel from Guangdong province, requested by the central government's liaison office on Monday night, was sent to Hong Kong and is on standby for assistance. Officials said rescue and search efforts will continue.
"It is a matter a life and death. The accident involved more than a hundred people. We had to utilise all the resources that we could utilise," said Leung.
The Social Welfare Department, the Home Affairs Department and the Hospital Authority will work together to offer assistance and counselling to survivors and their families. Each family can turn to a designated liaison officer.
The Tung Wah Group of Hospitals and The Hong Kong Jockey Club have both contacted the SAR government to offer financial assistance. Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, deputy chairman of Cheung Kong Holdings Ltd. which owned Assets Holdings Ltd., pledged that the company will offer HK$200,000 (US$26,000) to each family of a victim.
The SAR government will set up condolence points in each of the 18 districts for the public to mourn the victims for three days starting tomorrow. The flag of the Hong Kong SAR will be flown at half mast. Government officials will also cancel non-essential activities.
Tomorrow afternoon, officials will observe three minutes of silence and all government services, other than emergency services, will be suspended.