87 injured in Hong Kong high-speed ferry accident

The China Post news staff and AFP

TAIPEI, Taiwan — A high-speed ferry traveling from Hong Kong to Macau collided with an “unidentified object” Friday, injuring 87 people and raising new concerns over maritime safety a year after a ferry crash claimed 39 lives. Last month the city marked the one-year anniversary of the fatal ferry collision off Lamma Island, Hong Kong’s worst maritime disaster in over 40 years that sparked widespread shock in a city usually proud of its safety record. In the latest accident, the double-deck hydrofoil Madeira, carrying 105 passengers and 10 crew, hit “an unidentifiable object” around 1:15 a.m. (1720 GMT) near one of Hong Kong’s small outlying islands, boat operator TurboJet said. “We know 87 people were injured, three of whom are in serious condition,” a Hong Kong government spokeswoman told AFP. It was not clear what the object was but passengers described being hurled out of their seats by the force of the nighttime collision. “There was suddenly a loud bang. The ferry was thrown upwards. Then many passengers were thrown out from their seats,” one passenger identified as Mr. Wong was quoted as saying by Hong Kong’s Apple Daily.

Multiple passengers were stretchered into ambulances by emergency services staff, some wrapped in neck braces and breathing through oxygen masks. Some of the injured limped away in bandages after treatment at the scene. One passenger told Hong Kong television the crash felt like a “very big bang.” “I could hear the sound ‘bang,’” he said. Hong Kong’s waters are notoriously crowded. Hundreds of vessels, from rickety wooden sampans to enormous container ships, ply the shipping routes that crisscross the territory every day. Ferries are a vital part of the transport network, connecting the main urban areas to Hong Kong’s numerous outlying islands, the Chinese mainland and Macau.

But a spate of recent crashes has caused alarm. James To, a Democratic Party lawmaker who has lobbied on behalf of the family members of those killed in last year’s crash near Lamma, told AFP that there are growing concerns over safety standards for vessels traveling in Hong Kong waters.

A former high-speed ferry captain told AFP that the city’s waters were often littered with debris — ranging from wheels to refrigerators to even double beds — possibly discarded by passing cargo or tourist vessels. “In that area when I was a high-speed ferry captain, I have seen many times very big objects,” said Yeung Pui-Keung, who now trains seamen at a maritime school. “I was lucky I saw them. It would be good if citizens did not … throw anything into the water,” he added. Immediately after Friday’s crash three fireboats were scrambled to search the scene but failed to find any object in the water, fire officials said. Of those hospitalized, three were treated for serious injuries.