Macau, a special administrative region of China located south of Hong Kong, is often called the “Las Vegas of the East.” It is associated with gambling, night life, swanky resorts, and now…ferry crashes? You’d think a Macau-bound ferry crashing into a cargo ship last week would be big news – and it is – but it is not by any stretch the first incidence of such an accident. In recent years, there have been several nighttime ferry accidents in the busy waters of Hong Kong, including one just last October, and another one a few months prior.
So what’s the deal? The Hong Kong-Macau ferry route is incredibly busy, carting passengers to and fro between Hong Kong and Macau several times a day – often as much as every ten minutes. Of course, people are eager to make it to the gambling mecca, and so these ferries commonly operate at high speeds. As such, they travel in tightly-regulated shipping corridors that are also heavily monitored. The government uses a system similar to what we see air traffic controllers employing to make sure that the ferries travel safely.
For a long time it was all smooth sailing in the South China Sea, but recent increases in shipping traffic have caused the region to become busier than ever before. Cargo ships operating into the Pearl River Delta (an industrial hub on China’s southern coast) sometimes enter the shipping lanes designated for ferries. Combine this with the frequent bad weather that markedly reduces visibility and you’ve created a perfect storm for accidental vessel collisions.
This particular accident occurred in the waters west of downtown Hong Kong and caused significant damage to the right bow of the catamaran. 35 people were injured and had to be wheeled off the ship on stretchers and in wheelchairs. Luckily, most of the victims had only minor injuries and only one remained in a local hospital as of the 22nd. The high-speed ferry was operated by Shun Tak-China Travel Ship Management, Ltd. and was making one of its numerous regularly-scheduled trips to Macau. The shipping operator reported that the ferry was traveling at around 40 knots (74 kilometers/hour) and did not deviate from its usual course. Visibility was clear at around 11:00 pm when the accident occurred, although nighttime journeys can be more difficult.
Despite this ferry accident, rest assured that Hong Kong remains one of the world’s safest maritime hubs. There are tough regulations on both port management and ship maintenance, and the local government has confirmed that it is thoroughly investigating the exact cause of the accident. For now, there’s no need to cancel any trips to Hong Kong. With the number of ferries that traverse the waters with ease each day, the number of ships that crash is proportionally minimal.