Tuesday, 1 October 2013

An Anniversary of Grief

A year ago was the nightmare accident off Lamma Island where 39 people died
It's National Day in China, a one-week holiday on the mainland, but observed for one day in Hong Kong.

While we would typically have a fireworks display tonight, it is cancelled this year.

That's because it is a sad anniversary for the city, as it was a year ago today 39 people died in a tragic ferry accident off Lamma Island. Two boats collided, one full of Hongkong Electric employees, the other a ferry operated by Hongkong and Kowloon Ferry.

And we are still waiting for answers of who to blame, and victims' families are criticizing the government for not holding anyone responsible for the tragedy.

In an open letter released yesterday, the victims' families said the government had initially been eager to offer help but "today, [its] attitude has changed 180 degrees".

"On the causes of the incident and its responsibility, it only keeps silent or resorts to using the same official scripts that are full of cliches," the letter said, which was addressed to Marine Department director Francis Liu Hon-por. The families said Liu should not escape responsibility even though he will reach retirement age next year.

A commission of inquiry released a report in April harshly criticized the department, while an internal departmental probe is still ongoing.

The families are unhappy with how Liu and the department handled the aftermath of the incident.

"The government tried to cool down the matter, by keeping its mouth shut," said Ryan Tsui Chi-shing, who lost his brother and niece in the tragedy. "Government officials had helped victims' families, but turned cold after a commission of inquiry condemned the Marine Department."

Under pressure, Liu did apologize at a Legislative Council panel meeting in May. He bowed and apologized to the victims' families, survivors and others, and said that the apology came late because he sought legal advice.

To this Tsui was unforgiving, saying Liu's apology was "ridiculous", saying, "If he was sincere, why would he have to need to think so long and ask for legal advice?"

However from Liu's point of view, it is understandable he could not nor would not apologize immediately -- in doing so it would admit fault and he wanted the incident to be investigated first before having to say sorry.

Meanwhile a retired department officer requested a judicial review of the findings of the inquiry, but the Marine Department says this was done in a personal capacity.

The incident was a tragedy, no doubt, Hong Kong's worst maritime accident since 1971. But one would think a year later questions would be answered, responsibility taken and victims' families could move on.

For the sake of the relatives of the victims and the city, the government needs to finish what it started and be impartial when it comes to assigning blame. People died and their loved ones want answers.

It is the least the Leung administration can do to help the families find closure, 365 days later.

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