As rescue work continues in the waterways of Hong Kong, the city mourns what has become its deadliest marine accident since 1971. While on the way to celebrate China’s mid-autumn festival and National Day with fireworks over Victoria Harbor, the Lamma IV of Hong Kong Electric was slammed by a speeding ferry early in the evening on Oct. 1. Over 100 employees of the utility company and their families were on board, including several children. The aftermath of the accident resulted in 38 deaths, with potentially more on the way as investigations of the partially submerged craft persist. Meanwhile, the second vessel, owned and operated by the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry Company, returned to port relatively unscathed, although several passengers were treated for minor injuries.
Maritime investigators suspect that human error played a pivotal role in the accident, as the night was clear and both the ferries were reportedly in acceptable condition. According to the Wall Street Journal, general secretary of the Hong Kong Merchant Navy Officers’ Guild Chung Tung-tong said, “It was astonishing that so many people were killed in this accident, in such a modern city. If these two vessels collided in good weather and the engine wasn’t in trouble, there must be someone who did something wrong.”
This comes as no surprise to many, however, as collisions are common in the congested waterways between Hong Kong and Lamma Island, its neighboring tourist attraction. Current reports suggest that the ferry, a high speed catamaran, deviated from its course in an effort to quickly skirt the island and bypass heavy marine traffic. Police arrested a combined seven crew members from the vessels the next day, but have yet to determine the exact cause of the accident.
A traditional Chinese mourning ceremony took place on Oct. 2, as relatives of the victims and Taoist priests journeyed by boat to the scene. Throwing paper offerings, called spirit money, into the waves, they prayed and remembered their loved ones. Many experts and lawmakers are now pushing for stricter maritime laws for the harbor, hoping to prevent similar tragedies in the future.