Last Monday evening 01 October at about 2020h a collision between a Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry boat and the Lamma IV belonging to China Light & Power left 39 people dead. This is the worst marine accident in Hong Kong in 40 years, and we extend our deepest condolences to the bereaved families.
Photographs in the press and on local tv show damage to the bow of the HK&K ferry, and to the port quarter of the Lamma IV. A total of seven crew from the two vessels have been arrested. Hong Kong is officially in three days' mourning, flags are flying at half mast, and the South China Morning Post has a black-band headline. Of course there are going to be huge Investigations, and probably a Commission or two, and maybe an Inquiry. In the end it has to come down to ‘human error', meaning (probably) that someone wasn't paying attention, forgot their ColRegs, and was not able to take evasive action fast enough. Those responsible should be brought to book, and steps taken to ensure that they don't operate boats in Hong Kong's busy environs, ever again.
What will happen, however, is that there will then be endless additional Commissions and Inquiries aimed at revamping the regulations about life jackets, passenger manifests, rights of way, speed limits and so on. The Commissioners and Inquirers will completely miss the point that, yes, in busy sea lanes accidents do happen (in spite of whatever regulations are already in force), and more regulations generally make for more loopholes. There will be all manner of finger-pointing – the emergency services didn't get there fast enough, the lifejackets were in the wrong place, the seats weren't bolted down securely, whatever – and they will do what Hong Kong does best these days: talk about it, consult, and prepare coloured papers of many hues. All the while generally trying to evade any chance of being held responsible for making a decision.
Now stand by and watch while the insurance companies start wriggling, the lawyers start arguing, and the authorities start discussing. It's going to be a long story, and at the end of it all marine users – both commercial and private – are going end up with a load more regulations to cope with. The fact is, life is not a risk-free enterprise, and you just can't legislate against that.
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