Expert cites substandard architecture on death ship

Updated: 2013-01-12 06:46

By Li Likui(HK Edition)

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The ill-fated Lamma IV, the vessel that took 39 people to their deaths on the night of Oct 1, was described at a commission of inquiry on Friday as meeting only a poor standard of naval architecture.

It was the second expert testimony presented to the commission of inquiry into the sinking of the Lamma IV, which was rammed by the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry Company vessel the Sea Smooth. A report from Australian naval architect Tony Armstrong said the Lamma IV had no watertight door to prevent seawater from flooding into the aft peak and tank room. The absence of such a bulkhead resulted in seawater flooding three compartments of the vessel rather than the holed two, causing her to sink quickly, the report noted.

Louis Szeto Ka-sing, a member of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, agreed with Armstrong's conclusion. Szeto said the lack of a watertight door between the aft peak and the tank room, which was supposed to have been installed, would accelerate the sinking of the vessel.

"Though the vessel was doomed when two of its compartments - the engine room and the tank room - at the aft end of the ship was flooded, the flooding of the aft peak, which was a relatively smaller compartment, would only add to the speed a little to make it sink faster," said Szeto.

Armstrong also said that the plate at the side of the vessel was a mere 4.5 millimeters thick, below the norm of at least 5 millimeters. The thicker hull would have reduced the damage sustained on impact and thus would have allowed passengers more time to escape, he submitted. The report went on that the absence of a thicker shell may be the reason the Lamma IV was holed in two places.

Armstrong's report was also critical of the conditions of chairs installed on the upper deck, noting that all but one of the chairs was jarred free by the impact of the collision.

The qualifications of the captain of the Sea Smooth were also called into question during Friday's hearing. The Marine Department confirmed that the ferry's skipper took a course on radar operations at the Vocational Training Council. However, the department verified the skipper's qualification as generally equivalent to a radar observer's certification. The law stipulates that a least one sailor charged with sailing a vessel should be a qualified radar observer.

The Marine Department inspected the Lamma IV's hull in 2005 and 2011. The seven-strong inspection team from the department was scheduled to testify on Friday morning. Senior counsel Johnny Mok Shu-luen from the Department of Justice, representing the Marine Department, however, asked that the testimony be delayed until Monday, to give the department time to review the expert report on the naval architecture, which may be at variance with the department's report.

The chairman of the commission, Victor Lunn, accepted the application. Felix Pao, lawyer appearing for the shipyard where the Lamma IV was built also asked for a 14-day adjournment, saying the vessel was built in 1995 and thus they needed time to retrieve and sort out relevant documents.

(HK Edition 01/12/2013 page1)