Report on ferry disaster in 6 months: Marine Dept

Updated: 2012-11-15 08:44

By Fan Feifei(HK Edition)

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The Marine Department said it expects to complete its report into the fatal collision involving two ferries near Lamma Island on October 1 within the mandated 30-week target date for investigation into marine incidents. The assurance came, however, after the Audit Commission blasted the department for repeated failures to complete marine accident investigations within the specified time frame.

The auditor showed that from January, 2008 to May, 2012, there were 48 serious mishaps under investigation by the Marine Department. The department has completed only 34 of those inquiries.

The duration for completing the 34 investigations, ranged from 33 to 164 weeks, with the average duration being 69 weeks. Only 15 percent of the 34 completed investigations were finished within the 30-week target, the auditor said.

The Audit Commission noted reasons for the delays, included heavy workload of the investigation teams, complexity of the cases, and the time required waiting for responses from parties involved during the investigation process.

The commission recommended the Marine Department complete investigations of very serious mishaps as early as possible so as to offer conclusions for improving safety at sea and to prevent recurrences.

The Marine Department responded that it agrees with the auditor's recommendations, but defended its record, saying the present 30-week target completion time has not taken into account certain practical situations which are beyond the investigating officers' control.

The department added it will review the 30-week target completion target. A spokesman said the department also developed a database in 2011 to monitor investigations. It promised to complete the October 1 marine disaster investigation as early as possible. In the Oct 1 collision, a ferry carrying more than 120 Hong Kong Electric workers, their relatives and friends sank, claiming 38 lives.

Meanwhile, the Secretary for Labour and Welfare,Matthew Cheung Kin-chung told lawmakers on Wednesday that the government, Hong Kong Electric and many charitable organizations promptly provided emergency financial assistance after the collision, to address the urgent needs of the injured and the families of those killed.

The government has put in place the Emergency Relief Fund (ERF) to provide financial assistance to people in need of urgent relief to cope with natural disasters. During the past four years, grants were provided for about 4,600 applications, involving a total payment of about HK$13 million.

Cheung added that since the October 1 vessel collision was not a natural disaster, ERF is not applicable. However, there are a number of charitable funds providing direct and prompt assistance in special and urgent circumstances arising from non-natural disasters, and it will follow up with the cases as appropriate.

(HK Edition 11/15/2012 page1)