Two passenger ferries have collided off the coast of Hong Kong, leaving at least 37 people dead in one of the worst disasters to hit the city. Six crew members were arrested following the incident suspected of “endangering people's lives at sea.”
One of the boats was ferrying employees of The Hong Kong Electric Company and their families to watch the fireworks for China’s National Day celebrations when the collision occurred. A passenger ferry bound for southeastern Lamma Island plowed into it at high speed, capsizing the vessel.
"Our ferry left Lamma Island at 8:15pm to watch the fireworks display out at sea, but within a few minutes, a tugboat [which turned out to be another ferry] smashed into our vessel," Yuen Sui-see, a director for Hong Kong Electric, one of the city's two main electricity generators, told reporters.
Shortly after the incident the stricken ship began to sink vertically, with over 100 people tossed into the sea.
Survivors of the collision said that some people were trapped as the ship went under and were forced to break windows in order to escape.
"We thought we were going to die. Everyone was trapped inside," said a middle-aged woman to Reuters.
The incident sparked a mass rescue operation, involving helicopters, dive teams and scores of boats.
The search is still underway amid fears that victims of the collision may still be trapped on board the stricken vessel.
“We also don't rule out that some may have swam to shore themselves and haven't contacted their families and so may not be accounted for," Ng Kuen-chi, acting deputy director of fire services told local television.
The disaster is the worst to hit the port city since 1996, when 40 people died in a commercial building fire. Hong Kong’s authorities have pledged a thorough investigation into the crash, which happened when the city’s waterways were at their busiest on Monday evening. Flotillas of ships were gathering to watch the China Day fireworks.
"Normally vessels ought to stay and help other vessels in distress. But what we heard was that the other ship had passengers who were injured and needed help," a maritime department spokesman said to reporters.
For health reasons, investigators have not yet been able to talk to the captain of the ferry to ascertain what caused the collision.