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SEA SMOOTH and LAMMA IV Collide Off Hong Kong, Killing 38

SEA SMOOTH and LAMMA IV Collide Off Hong Kong, Killing 38

At around 8:20 p.m. on October 1, Hong Kong catamaran ferry SEA SMOOTH collided with pleasure craft LAMMA IV off the southeast coast of Lamma Island, Hong Kong. There were 38 deaths and scores injured among the over 120 passengers on board LAMMA IV. No one aboard SEA SMOOTH perished, although her captain and some of her passengers suffered injuries. Because neither vessel had an exact passenger list, it is not yet known whether anyone is missing. This is the deadliest maritime tragedy in the area since 1971, when a taifun capsized a Macau-Hong Kong ferry, killing 88 people.

LAMMA IV was bound from Lamma Island for a fireworks display over Victoria Harbor to celebrate the 63rd annual National Day of the PRC. The larger SEA SMOOTH was ferrying passengers from Central Hong Kong to Yung Shue Wan on Lamma Island. SEA SMOOTH, said to have been running at her top speed, seems to have hit and ripped a very large hole through the port stern of LAMMA IV, rupturing the watertight compartments located there. Whatever the cause proves to be, the result of the impact was devastating. Roughly 100 of the over 120 people aboard LAMMA IV were thrown into the water; some were trapped inside. LAMMA IV partially sunk quickly and nearly vertically, stern down, leaving little or no time for donning life jackets. SEA SMOOTH suffered substantial but not debilitating damage to her port bow and was able to eventually proceed to port.

LAMMA IV is owned by Hong Kong Electric Company, and was carrying company employees and their families and friends to enjoy the National Day festivities. The ferry operator is Hong Kong and Kowloon Holdings, Ltd. According to a ferry spokesperson, the ferry had just passed inspection and the captain is a 27-year veteran. The night was apparently clear and visibility was good, and at least the ferry - perhaps both vessels - had radar.

The captain and crew of each vessel were arrested for suspicion of "not exercis[ing] the care required of them by law to ensure the safety of the vessels...and the people on board." They are currently out on bail pending an investigation, which will include vessel stability and whether the captains were following speed, route, safety and other regulations. (Overloading has been ruled out.) Authorities have advised that the investigation may take up to six months, and though human error is currently thought to be the cause, most are refraining from assessing blame pending investigation results.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced three days of public mourning for the victims. He is also calling for an investigation to assess marine traffic through the waterways surrounding Hong Kong, because although Hong Kong operates among the most regulated waterways and ports in Asia, which are considered to be among the safest in the world, they have become increasingly congested and possibly overloaded.

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