News Ticker

13 drownings in 12 months – Marine Police warn about dangers at sea

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A Major Patrol Launch punching through the waves at Port Shelter in north-east monsoon conditions.

The waters off Sai Kung form the Marine Police East Division (MEDIV) and cover approximately 345 square kilometres of mostly open water, as well as the sheltered waters of Rocky Harbour and Port Shelter, which are ideal for water-based recreational activities. For much of the year MEDIV is exposed to prevailing easterly or north-easterly winds. The rough sea state presents challenges during both routine patrol and incident response.

On weekends and public holidays between Easter and early November, thousands of holidaymakers arrive in vessels of every type for recreational activity in the waters off Sai Kung.  Recreational sailors, canoeists, divers and swimmers require and receive Police assistance every weekend and, indeed, almost every day during the summer months.

After 13 drownings in the waters and on the beaches of Sai Kung and Clearwater Bay waters in 2016, the Marine Police East Division Commander has warned of the dangers posed by the sea and provided some common sense advice.

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Superintendent Justin Shave, 6ft 2ins Marine Police Commander based at Tui Min Hoi.  He wears a Commissioner’s Commendation lanyard awarded for a special operation but will not say anything about it.

Superintendent Justin Shave, who is 6ft 2ins and wears a Commissioner’s Commendation lanyard*, said several of the deaths resulted from people on junk trips swimming off by themselves. “Typically it is someone in their 50s who used to be fit, overestimating their abilities, swimming away on their own and getting into difficulties.” This happened on four occasions.

Justin described the other fatalities at sea or on the beaches:

– Three older people swimming alone off CWB beaches drowned.

– A hiker was swept off a cliff at CWB into the sea. A friend jumped in to try to help him and both drowned.

– A 22-year-old Polish student went missing whilst swimming at night in Ham Tin Wan. Alcohol may have been a factor.

– A scuba diver near the Nine Pin islands.

– A mainland fishing boat collided with a sampan in fog north west of the Nine Pin islands. One person died and one was seriously injured.

– In Typhoon Sarika a mainland rock-carrying freighter capsized. Marine police rescued 12 crew members, but one drowned (see below).

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Crew of a Medium Patrol Launch practise casualty rescue.

Justin said the messages for holiday makers as the summer approaches are don’t swim alone, look after your mates, don’t overestimate your abilities and be aware of changing weather.  During 2016, the Marine Police responded to 40 calls for assistance. Seventy-two people were helped out of difficulty with 21 cases classified as “lives saved”. Kayakers got into trouble, sailors’ boats broke down, launch engines stopped working and the landlubbers couldn’t get them going again.

Justin, accompanied by his administrative second-in-command, Chief Inspector Richard A.C. Barton-Smith, gave an update on the recent work of the Marine East division, which has 346 officers, three 30m major patrol launches, three 19m medium patrol launches and seven smaller fast craft based at the Tui Min Hoi Operational Base.

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Superintendent Justin Shave and officers after seizure of two smuggling boats in Sai Kung waters.

ILLEGAL FISHING TRAWLERS

There has been a marked drop-off of big trawlers illegally fishing in our waters because of the assistance provided by the Marine Police to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department during 2014 and 2015, which saw the Marine Police adopt new and more effective tactics against non-compliant vessels.

ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

Twenty-seven mainland fishermen in the Sai Kung area illegally collecting fish products were arrested and deported. Early last year 17 IIs were arrested attempting to land, with the Land police will have detained others, Justin said.

SMUGGLING

This is mainly goods going north, such as electronic products, mobile phones, watch parts, sandal and rose wood and even botox medical products. The Marine Police seized goods worth $35 million in the Sai Kung area alone. Four smuggling craft were intercepted, which were deliberately run up on to beaches to avoid arrest with the smugglers escaping into the hills. There were no serious cases detected involving the smuggling of criminals, dangerous drugs or illegal immigrants.

JET-SKI NUISANCE

Five jet-ski rental businesses operate at Hebe Haven, but most people are unaware that no one may drive a jet ski without an operator’s certificate. Twelve summonses have been issued recently for such contraventions. Endangering the safety of others at sea is a criminal offence. Many complaints are received and two people have been charged. Vast areas of Port Shelter and Rocky Harbour have 5-knot speed restrictions.

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Crews of Government Flying Services helicopter and Medium Patrol Launch during winch training.

WORST ACCIDENT

Justin said the capsize of a mainland rock-carrying freighter in Typhoon Sarika’s winds was the most difficult operation handled in the past 12 months. The vessel became swamped by heavy seas and began taking on water east of Basalt Island. The crew of the stricken cargo carrier were able to issue a “Mayday” which was received by the Marine Rescue Centre. Five marine police boats responded in the stormy seas and on arrival found 13 sailors in the water, all wearing life-jackets, but in some cases the life-jackets were not properly fitted, which is believed to have been the cause of one drowning. The other 12 were rescued.

SEA BOUNDARY SURVEILLANCE

Richard has recently completed a two-year tour as a Duty Controller at the Marine Police Command and Control Centre in Sai Wan Ho, where for 8-hours each day he was responsible for commanding all aspects of maritime security and Marine Police operations in HK waters.  Operating under the Versatile Maritime Policing Concept, which was implemented 2004, the Central Command and Control System integrates advanced digital radars and long-range day/ night camera systems with radar vectored high performance vessels. This allows the Marine Police to provide a fast, effective and flexible response when dealing with a range of policing challenges 24/7 in most weather conditions. These range from small fast targets crossing the Boundary of Administration, which might be engaged in smuggling or illegal immigration, to vessel fire cases, Search and Rescue operations, as well as monitoring major public and sporting events such as Fireworks displays.

TUI MIN HOI BASE MOVE

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The large and impressive Marine Police base at Tui Min Hoi is expected to move because of Government plans for reclamation,  including of the boat harbour, and housing in the long term (SAI KUNG BUZZ surveyor sources)

Justin said he is aware that the large and impressive Marine Police base at Tui Min Hoi is probably going to have to move in the future to somewhere nearby in Sai Kung as part of a major reclamation project, although there has been no official notification yet. According to SAI KUNG BUZZ earlier stories the move will be forced by government plans to build a new sea wall out from Tui Min Hoi, reclaim land including the boat harbour, move the sewage plant into the hill and build housing along the newly created waterfront. Justin emphasized the important role the base plays in serving the local community, providing a fast and efficient emergency response capability on account of its location on the western periphery of Sai Kung Town and that a new base should continue to meet the needs of the local community.

** Asked about the Commissioner’s Commendation lanyard, Justin said it was awarded for a particular operation but declined to disclose details.

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