HONG KONG • A 60-year-old man has been charged with arson after last Friday evening's firebomb attack on a Mass Transit Railway (MTR) train, reported Hong Kong media. The case will come up for mention in court today.
Of the 19 people injured in the blaze, nine are still in hospital. Three of them remain in critical condition with serious burns, and one - a Taiwanese tourist - is in intensive care.
The alleged attack took place on a train heading to Tsim Sha Tsui station from Admiralty. Reports said a man hurled a lit Molotov cocktail on board a packed train when it was about to pull up at the platform of Tsim Sha Tsui station.
In the wake of the attack, lawmakers and experts have called for the beefing up of safety measures on trains, enhanced staff training and increased public awareness to better cope with similar situations and emergencies in the future.
Safety fears have been heightened after it was revealed that there were no closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed on the train involved.
19 Total number of people injured in last Friday's attack on an MTR train.
9 Those still in hospital.
3 Those in critical condition.
CHECKING BAGS NOT FEASIBLE
Searching through the bags of passengers is not a feasible way forward. There is no way people would tolerate this kind of delay.
LAWMAKER JAMES TO, saying that measures like security checks at station entrances would affect the city's efficiency.
BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY
The police and firemen quickly handled the situation. But now I would be looking around more... I used to play with my phone when taking the train.
COMMUTER YEUNG SING KEI, saying he would be more cautious when he takes the subway train.
MTR operations director Adi Lau said last Saturday that CCTV cameras were not installed on half of the city's trains and that new CCTV-equipped trains would be ready for service by next year "at the earliest", reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).
"If there was CCTV on the train, the MTR staff would have known what happened immediately and have the fire extinguishers ready by the door before the train arrived at the platform," said lawmaker Michael Tien, chairman of the Legislative Council's transport panel.
Each MTR train, which has eight carriages, is equipped with 18 fire extinguishers, including those in the driver's cabins at both ends.
Dangerous goods such as pressurised gas cylinders or petroleum are forbidden on the Hong Kong's subway, but no security checks are in place to ensure passengers do not carry the items, according to SCMP.
Associate Professor Hung Wing Tat, of the department of civil and structural engineering at Polytechnic University, suggested security checks at station entrances.
Lawmaker James To, however, described such measures as "impossible", saying that they would affect the city's efficiency.
"Searching through the bags of passengers is not a feasible way forward. There is no way people would tolerate this kind of delay," he was quoted as saying by SCMP.
Said Transport minister Anthony Cheung: "As there are many passengers travelling on the MTR every day, it is not that easy to set up security checks."
More than five million trips are made on the MTR daily.
Commuter Yeung Sing Kei told SCMP he would be more cautious whenever he takes the subway. "The police and firemen quickly handled the situation. But now I would be looking around more... I used to play with my phone when taking the train," he told SCMP.
The MTR has since formed an investigation panel to review how the blaze - which was classified as a "major incident" - was handled, and whether communication with passengers and the public was effective. An initial report is expected within a month, reported SCMP.
Last Friday's attack was the first of its kind on an MTR train since an arson attack in 2004 left 14 people injured. A 68-year-old man, using paint thinner and liquefied petroleum gas, started a fire on a busy train near Admiralty station.
He was later caught and sentenced to life in prison. In that case, the judge said there was a need for society to take better care of elderly people living alone. The arsonist's isolation may have prompted him to "think radically", said the judge.
In last Friday's attack at Tsim Sha Tsui station, the suspect has a history of mental illness. Local media said he had recently missed a check-up.
When asked whether the government was doing enough to support people with mental illness, Health Secretary Ko Wing Man defended the city's mental health services, reported broadcaster RTHK.
"We have actually since 2013 conducted a review of the mental health services," he told reporters.