The crash happened Monday evening, a night when Hong Kong’s busy waters were even more crowded than usual, as the city celebrated China’s National Day.
Search and rescue efforts will continue for at least two more days as authorities look for missing passengers, authorities said Tuesday. They did not know exactly many are unaccounted for.
One of the two vessels, owned by The Hong Kong Electric Company, was carrying company employees and their families to watch the scheduled fireworks display when it was struck by a passenger ferry traveling from Hong Kong Island to Lamma Island.
Government officials said the collision occurred off Lamma’s coast around 8:20 p.m., plunging more than 100 people into the water.
Hong Kong fire services deployed seven boats, including one to support diving operations, and more than 200 rescue personnel, the government said. Four rescue boats and a team of divers also were dispatched from the mainland Chinese province of Guangdong nearby, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.
Social media sites lit up with discussion of the tragedy and condolences for the victims and their families. Cellphone footage of the partly submerged boat was posted to YouTube.
The tragedy is a test for the new administration of Hong Kong’s Beijing-installed chief executive, Leung Chun-ying. His July inauguration was greeted by protests, and opposition by students and their parents against the proposed teaching of China-influenced patriotic history forced his government to back off the plan last month.
“All of Hong Kong’s emergency forces are focused here,” Leung said. “Wide-ranging rescue work is being carried out on in the sea, land and in the air.”
According to the New York Times, six people who are suspected to have been operating the vessels unsafely have been detained:
Three crew members were arrested from each of two boats that collided just off the coast of Lamma, one of the largest of Hong Kong’s many outlying islands, at about 8:30 p.m. on Monday, as the city was gearing up for a mammoth fireworks display that marked China’s National Day.
The six were suspected of endangering passengers by operating the vessels unsafely, senior police officials said at a news conference here in Hong Kong that was widely reported on local radio. More arrests may follow, they added.
The Hong Kong government on Tuesday convened a top-level interdepartmental meeting on the accident and pledged a thorough investigation.