At least 36 revelers on a Hong Kong harbor cruise to watch a holiday fireworks display died when their boat collided with a ferry in the city’s deadliest marine accident in nearly four decades.
The boats, one carrying more than 120 employees and family members of Power Assets Holdings Ltd.’s Hong Kong Electric Co. unit and the other a passenger ferry, collided off Hong Kong’s Lamma Island at about 8:20 p.m. yesterday ahead of fireworks to mark China’s National Day.
The death toll is the highest in a single marine accident since at least 1984, according to according to statistics on the website of Hong Kong’s Marine Department. It may be the highest since 1971 when a Macau-to-Hong Kong ferry called “Fat Shan” capsized during Typhoon Rose, killing 88 people, according to the Hong Kong Observatory.
“Five minutes after the boat departed, another vessel crashed into the middle of our boat and left without regard to the consequences,” said Yuen Sui-see HK Electric’s director of operations, in a statement posted to the company’s website. “We had originally arranged for our employees to view the fireworks. Who knew that this accident would happen?”
The city’s Fire Services Department is continuing the search, the government said. Low visibility was making the rescue difficult, though rescuers pulled 123 people from the sinking vessel, according to an earlier government statement.
Twenty-eight people were pronounced dead at the scene, and eight after arrival at the city’s hospitals, the government said on its website today. Of the more than 100 passengers taken to five hospitals, nine were in serious or critical condition as of 7:45 a.m. local time.
The ferry operated by Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry Holdings Ltd. was carrying about 100 passengers, a few of whom were lightly injured and have been released from hospital, government broadcaster RTHK said on its Chinese-language website, citing an unidentified spokesman for the company. Calls made to HK & Kowloon Ferry’s 24-hour service hotline were not immediately returned.
HK Electric’s boat left Lamma Island at 8:15 p.m. with about 120 employees and family members on board to see the fireworks, according to HK Electric’s statement. The boat had capacity to hold up to 200 people, the company said.
Leung Chun-ying, the city’s chief executive, visited an area near the accident and said the government will begin an investigation into the causes of the crash, according to an earlier statement. Calls to the Hong Kong Police public relations branch were not immediately returned.
China’s Ministry of Transport sent four rescue ships early today to assist in the search for missing passengers, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The rescue ships arrived at 4 a.m. at the accident site.
With assistance from Joshua Fellman in New York, Richard Frost in Hong Kong and Jing Yang in Shanghai. Editors: Mohammed Hadi, Hwee Ann Tan. To contact the reporters on this story: Natasha Khan in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org; Aibing Guo in Hong Kong at email@example.com. To contact the editor responsible for this story: Bruce Grant at firstname.lastname@example.org.