HONG KONG • A rubber tyre fished out of water is preliminarily suspected to have caused a weekend ferry crash in Hong Kong that injured 124, including five critically.
Officials yesterday said they were investigating what caused Sunday's accident when a high-speed ferry travelling between Macau and Hong Kong hit an "unidentified object" in the water.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that a rubber tyre with a diameter of 1m was retrieved near the scene of the accident, and investigators are trying to find out whether it had any role in the crash.
The tyre is believed to be a vessel fender to prevent damage during berthing. "Although it is made of rubber, it could have caused a heavy impact force as the ferry slammed into it," the SCMP quoted a source with knowledge of the investigation as saying. He added that the tyre was so far the only floating object seen near the crash site.
Of the 163 passengers and 11 crew members on board, a total of 124 aged between six and 83 were injured.
The hospital authorities said yesterday most have been discharged, but 33 remained in hospital, including five critically injured.
Ferry operator Shun Tak said water had seeped into the vessel's engine rooms and the rear wing was damaged after the collision.
A major rescue operation was mounted after the ferry, named Horta, lost power following the collision off the Siu A Chau island, near the larger island of Lantau.
Media reports described scenes of chaos, and photos showed wounded people being stretchered onto ambulances at a pier in Hong Kong's Central financial district.
Passengers described hearing a loud noise before the lights went out. One man, who had injuries on his forehead, limbs and lips, told the Apple Daily he was flung off his seat as he had not buckled up.
"We feel saddened by the large number of people who were affected by the collision... the Marine Department will look into the cause of it," said the city's Transport Secretary Anthony Cheung.
Hong Kong has one of the world's busiest ports, with hundreds of high-speed ferries, cargo ships, fishing boats and yachts criss-crossing it daily. However, fears over its maritime safety have grown following a spate of accidents in recent years, including a crash in 2012 that killed 39 people when a high-speed ferry collided with a pleasure boat near Lamma island.
A subsequent inquiry found a "litany of errors" contributed to the accident, the city's worst maritime disaster in over 40 years.
In 2013, another high-speed ferry crashed into an unidentified object, injuring 87 and raising concerns over the problem of rubbish- strewn waterways.
In June last year, more than 50 people were injured when a Macau-bound ferry crashed into a seawall.