Tourists may also be among the victims when Hong Kong suffered one of its worst transport accidents in years as two ferries collided on Monday evening, killing at least 36 passengers and leaving 9 others in critical condition in Hong Kong hospitals.
The accident took place near Lamma Island shortly after one of the ferries had pulled away from the dock, loaded with more than 120 people on a company outing to watch a fireworks display in Victoria Harbor in celebration of China’s National Day and mid-autumn festival. The passengers were mostly employees and family members from Power Assets Holdings, a unit of Li Ka-shing‘s Cheung Kong Group.
Survivors of the accident said the ferry had been struck by another faster moving boat, and then sank too rapidly for passengers to put on life jackets and exit the vessel.
The other ferry from Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry Holdings continued its journey to Lamma Island with a damaged bow. Some of its passengers and crew were also treated for injuries.
Rescuers were still busy early Tuesday morning searching the mostly submerged craft for survivors.
Within 10 minutes, the ship had sunk. We had to wait at least 20 minutes before we were rescued,” said one male survivor, wrapped in a blanket on the shore.
Some survivors said people had to break windows to swim to the surface. “We thought we were going to die. Everyone was trapped inside,” said another middle-aged woman.
The other ship, owned by Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry Holdings, made it safely to the pier on Lamma, an island popular with tourists and expatriates. It had a damaged bow and several of its passengers and crew were taken to hospitals with injuries.
The expected compensation for each victim is $25,000.
The tragedy was the worst to hit Hong Kong since 1996 when more than 40 people died in a fire in a commercial building.
Hong Kong is one of the world’s busiest shipping channels, although serious marine accidents are rare. It is unclear why the two ferries collided.
“Our ferry left Lamma island at 8:15 pm to watch the fireworks display out at sea, but within a few minutes, a tugboat (ferry) smashed into our vessel,” said Yuen Sui-see, a director for Hong Kong Electric.
A spokeswoman for Hong Kong and Kowloon Ferry said they were assessing what had happened.
“Our captain is not well, and we have not been able to talk to him so far,” the spokeswoman told local television.
The nighttime collision sparked a major rescue operation involving dive teams, helicopters, and boats that saw scores of people plucked from the sea.
Television pictures showed the red and blue bow of the Hong Kong Electric Company ferry pointing skywards, surrounded by rescue vessels.
“We will continue our search. We also don’t rule out that some may have swam to shore themselves and haven’t contacted their families and so may not be accounted for,” Ng Kuen-chi, acting deputy director of fire services, told local television.
The search was hampered by the vessel being partly sunken, poor visibility, and too much clutter inside the vessel, Ng said.
Teams of men in white coats, green rubber gloves ,and yellow helmets carried corpses off a police launch in body bags on Tuesday. Local media reported that children were among the dead.
More than 100 people were sent to 5 hospitals and 9 people suffered serious injuries or remained in critical condition, the government said in a statement.
Hong Kong leader, Leung Chun-ying, visited survivors of the collision and pledged a thorough investigation into the crash.
Thousands of Hong Kong residents live on outlying islands such as Lamma, which lies about 3 km (2 miles) southwest of Hong Kong island.