Fine for missing sailor on fateful ferry: HK$900
Hongkong Electric was fined HK$ 900 after being found guilty by a court on Monday for having one less sailor to work on Lamma IV than required when it collided with another ferry and sank last National Day.
As many as 124 employees of the power company and their family members, who signed up for a firework display sailing, were thrown into the sea from Lamma IV off Lamma Island after a collision with a high speed catamaran on Oct 1, 2012. Thirty-nine perished in the accident.
An independent inquiry report, released on April 30, confirmed that although Lamma IV’s operating license and certificate of survey required a minimum of four crew members, only three were present at the time of collision.
Hongkong Electric, the owner of the vessel, was charged with not having a sufficient number of qualified crew members, as provided in section 11 of the Merchant Shipping (Local Vessels) (General) Regulation.
Company lawyers argued that other staffers, onboard to assist the festive ride, should be counted as part of the crew too, and that a notice for the requirement was found to be absent.
Magistrate David Chum Yaufong, who passed the verdict, rejected both arguments and ruled Hongkong Electric guilty of breaking the manning rule.
The regulation, he pointed out, specified crew members are “qualified and capable of carrying out all duties which may reasonably be required” to “ensure the safety of the vessel”. Other supporting staff members were engaged in the business of the “event” only.
Chum also accepted the operating license and certificate of survey as two forms of notice issued by the director of marine, as required in the regulation.
The maximum penalty is a HK$10,000 fine and a jail term of six months. The prosecution told the court that previous convicted owners were fined no more than HK$900 — a figure that took some time for Chum to comprehend — but went on to point out that Hongkong Electric was the first defendant to plead not guilty.
The fine was finally fixed at HK$900. Passing sentence, Chum explained he only considered the company’s failure to obey the rule as being under “normal circumstances”, as there was no proven link between the missing crew member and outcome of the crash.
Hongkong Electric said it respects the court ruling in a statement, but it may take further action after deliberation with its legal team.
While the Monday ruling may favor victims’ families in filing claims with the vessel owner, Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, said they will need to prove whether the number of crew members had contributed to the accident.
More trials will follow. Captains of both crashed vessels were each charged with 39 counts of manslaughter, pending a hearing date. The owner of the high-speed catamaran was also sued for unauthorized alteration of the vessel.