BEIJING -- Hong Kong police arrested two captains and five crew members Tuesday in connection with the collision of a pleasure boat and a ferry that left 38 people dead and more than 100 injured in the territory’s worst maritime accident in four decades.
The disaster happened about 8:25 p.m. Monday near Lamma Island, west of Hong Kong Island.
Dozens of passengers were thrown into the water from a vessel chartered by Hong Kong Electric Co. for its employees to watch a holiday fireworks display in Victoria Harbor marking China’s National Day. The electric company's boat rapidly sank, and photos from the scene showed a Titanic-like image of just the vessel’s bow sticking up vertically from the water.
All of the fatalities appeared to be from the company boat; the ferry was able to sail to port on Lamma Island. Local media said Tuesday night that 27 people remained hospitalized, two in critical condition. Sixty-six others had been discharged.
Police arrested the captains of both boats, along with two male crew members of the company vessel, and three male crew members of the ferry, on suspicion of endangering the safety of others at sea. All but the 54-year-old ferry captain were released on bail, and police said he would be freed later. An investigation was continuing.
The chief executive of the Chinese territory, Leung Chun-ying, said an independent committee would be set up to look into the cause of the disaster and declared three days of mourning starting on Thursday, Radio-Television Hong Kong reported.
China’s state-run New China News Agency said Chinese President Hu Jintao, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and Vice President Xi Jinping had all expressed their condolences. The central government said it had requested four salvage vessels to be sent from nearby Guangdong province on the mainland to assist in the rescue and recovery operations.
It was the worst such disaster in local waters since the Fat Shan, the Hong Kong-to-Macao ferry, sank on Aug. 16, 1971, during Typhoon Rose, killing 88 people.
Hong Kong is one of the world’s busiest ports. Critics have raised concern about extensive land-reclamation efforts that have reduced the navigable waters of the harbor and pushed smaller vessels into deep shipping lanes used by much larger vessels.
Due to landfill projects, the distance between Hong Kong Island and Tsim Sha Tsui, just to the north on the Kowloon peninsula, was once 1.5 miles but is now just over half a mile.
Residents of Lamma, a car-free island, also say that rising real estate prices on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon have pushed more people to live in more remote districts like theirs, which has added to ferry traffic.
-- Julie Makinen