Ships 2

Lamma IV

Ships 3

Lamma IV

Hong Kong’s Lamma IV Disaster

By James Donahue

Six crew members from the two ferries that collided October 1, 2012 off Lamma Island, Hong Kong, have been charged after the sinking of the Lamma IV and the deaths of 39 passengers. Another 102 people were injured.

The ferry was carrying more than 120 passengers and heading for the mainland where the city was preparing for a mammoth fireworks display to mark China’s National Day. But the Lamma IV was struck broadside by an outgoing ferry, Sea Smooth, at about 8:30 p.m. and quickly sank.

The collision was declared one of the worst disasters to occur at Hong Kong’s harbor in many years.

The Sea Smooth's bow rammed the stern of the Lamma IV on the port side, rupturing the ship's two watertight compartments. The vessel flooded and capsized, the the stern sinking into the sea. The ship sank so fast that more than 100 passengers were tossed into the water before they had a chance to find and put on life vests. Other passengers were trapped inside the doomed ferry to drown.

The Sea Smooth left the scene with its bow crushed but the vessel still staying afloat. Passengers on both vessels were treated for injuries.

Local authorities conducted an extensive search and rescue operation that involved small boats pulling survivors from the water, helicopters flying overhead and divers. Salvage crews later raised the vessel.

A board of inquiry determined that both captains broke safety rules. The coxswain's of both vessels were charged with poor navigation. The report stated that Captain Lai Sai-ming of the Sea Smooth made a 16 degree turn to port when the navigation rules state the proper move as the two vessels approached each other was to turn to starboard. The study also found that Chow Chi-wai, master of the Lamma IV, also made breaches of International Regulations, thus contributing to the accident.

Lai Sai-ming also was criticized for leaving the scene of the collision and attempting to offer assistance to the stricken ship.

The Lamma IV, owned by the Hongkong Electric Company, had been carrying passengers on a one-day company organized cruise to Lamma Island, a popular tourist spot and back to the mainland to watch the fireworks display. It was a family event so there were many children on the vessel at the time of the accident.

Hong Kong's port and nearby waters in the Pearl River Delta are among the busiest in the world, with many passenger ferries, private leisure boats and fishing vessels adding to the traffic from regional and transcontinental cargo ships. Yet records show that maritime safety standards there are high and accidents are rare.