Barge collision prompts call for better communication

Legislators and scholars are calling for the government to improve the way information is disseminated during emergencies along the main route to and from the airport. The call comes after a tug boat struck Kap Shui Mun bridge November 23rd, 2015. Resulting in traffic chaos.

The vessel, breached the height limits for passing under the bridge and smashed into the structure. This forced a shut down of the only road and rail connection to the airport – the Lantau Link – for around two hours.

People who were stuck on the bridge criticized the authorities for their slow and poor reaction over the incident.

“When the Lantau Link was closed, the authorities did not immediately inform the public via the media,” said Mr Michael Tien Puk-sun, Chairman of the Legislative Council’s transport panel. “Residents at Tung Chung felt helpless. Many tourists did not know how to get to the airport.”

Speaking after an inter-departmental meeting, Secretary for Transport and Housing Prof. Anthony Cheung said all relevant departments and organizations, including the Airport Authority and the MTR Corporation, should be notified immediately once safety warning of the bridge is activated.

“You cannot avoid accidents but can minimized the harm to it,” said Dr Hung Wing-tat, an expert on civil engineering of transportation. “The government needs to better inform the public of all possible routes to the airport if there is a similar closure.”

“The time needed to activate the emergency ferry services can be shortened if the government can raise full alert sooner, meaning a full closure of the bridge and kick-start all kinds of emergency measures”, said Mr Cheung.

“But even if such service could be provided earlier, we are only talking about maybe 15 minutes or 20 minutes earlier,” said Mr Cheung.

Mr Cheung added the contractor of the bridge is not supposed to have an empty fleet stationed on the sea every day to wait for an emergency situation.

“The contractor is committed to starting emergency ferry service within two hours after it is informed of the need to do so,” he said.

The Marine Department said it has boosted patrols around the bridges to promote safety and has met with the local shipping trade to ensure it is well informed about height limits.

However, Mr Cheung said setting an early warning system on the Kap Shui Mun Bridge might not work because “the total time for a boat to pass the bridge will be about two minutes, and that time is not enough for a boat to stop.”

The accident crippled Hong Kong International Airport causing 91 flights delayed between 8 pm and 2 am Saturday, with about 40 flights delayed almost one hour or more, according to the Airport Authority.

Ellen Chen Yilun, a year 2 student at Hong Kong Baptist University who planned to fly home in Fujian Province to spend the weekend with her family, was stuck in the middle of the bridge for more than 90 minutes.

“My flight was at 10 pm, but I did not manage to arrive at the airport until half past ten. And when I eventually got home in Fujian, it was already over 1:30 am,” said Ms Chen.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said the construction of the alternative route, Tuen Mun-Chek Lap Kok Link, would be completed in about three years.

Reporting: Sharon Shi Taoyang
Writing: Charlotte Yang Yuting
Video & Photo: Julianna WU Qiyao

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