A celebratory boat tour of Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour turned deadly on Monday when the vessel collided with a ferry and sank, killing 38 people.
The boat was carrying 121 passengers and three crew members when the accident happened near Lamma Island, which lies southwest of Hong Kong Island, around 8:30 p.m. local time, the Associated Press reported.
Staff members of the Hong Kong Electric utility company and their family members were sailing to the harbor to watch a fireworks display for China’s National Day and mid-autumn festival. The vessel, named the Lamma IV, was built to carry around 200 passengers and is thought to have been mostly full when it was hit by a ferry operated by the Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry company.
The ferry, operating on a regularly scheduled route from Hong Kong Island, hit the Lamma IV at a “high speed,” causing the charter boat to rapidly sink within 10 minutes of the crash, leaving half the bow sticking up from the water. All 38 fatalities occurred on board the Lamma IV. No one was seriously injured on the ferry, which sustained only minor damage and continued sailing into its destination port on Lamma Island.
Twenty-eight passengers were pronounced dead at the scene Monday night, while eight more died at hospitals across the territory. Two more bodies found Tuesday brought the death toll to 38. By nightfall Tuesday, family members were still scrambling to identify victims, and investigators didn’t yet have a theory on how the collision occurred. The boats smashed into each other in the middle of the channel between Lamma and Hong Kong island, which is just two miles across. While the area is one of the busiest waterways in Asia, it is also one of the most regulated, and as a result serious accidents are rare. Government officials met Tuesday and pledged a thorough investigation.
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As of 4 a.m. Tuesday, The Hong Kong Hospital Authority said that about 100 people and the bodies of several of the dead had been rescued from the water and taken to public hospitals, according to CNN.
According to local broadcaster RTHK, the ferry captain, whose vessel was slightly damaged, was afraid to stop in case it sank. Survivors reported that low visibility made it difficult to properly exit the ship upon impact. One survivor described the incident to the South China Morning Post: “After 10 minutes out, a boat crashed into ours from the side at very high speed. The rear of the ferry started to sink. I suddenly found myself deep under the sea,” the unnamed survivor said. “I don’t know where my two kids are,” he added.
On Tuesday, a total of seven crew members from both boats were arrested. Police Commissioner Tsang Wai-hung said seven people were taken into custody. “They are being investigated for endangering people’s lives at sea,” said Hong Kong’s secretary for security Lai Tung-kwok, according to The Guardian. Police didn’t rule out additional arrests.
The Hong Kong government has declared Thursday a day of mourning for the victims of the territory’s worst boating disaster since 1971.