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11 Missing After Cargo Ships Collides Near Hong Kong

By Gerry Mullany and Keith Bradsher
May 5th, 2014

HONG KONG — A Chinese cargo ship laden with cement sank near Hong Kong waters early Monday after colliding with a larger container ship registered in the Marshall Islands, leaving 11 people missing and setting off a frantic search for survivors, officials said.

One person was rescued following the 3 a.m. accident about three miles off Po Toi Island, which is just southeast of Hong Kong Island in the South China Sea. The Chinese cargo ship, the Zhong Xing 2, which was traveling from Hebei Province with 12 people on board, sank after the collision.

“The cargo ship sank at the said location,” a spokesman for the Hong Kong police said.

A fishing boat was able to rescue a crew member from the cargo ship, the spokesman said. The 46-year-old man, who was from mainland China, suffered minor injuries.

Hong Kong is one of the world’s busiest ports, and it is not uncommon at night or during fog to hear a series of sonorous blasts from a freighter, warning a smaller vessel to move out of the way. The city is also home to a large fleet of fishing vessels. But Alan Loynd, the former senior salvage master of Hong Kong Salvage & Towage, which is the main marine salvage and towing company in the city, said that Hong Kong had not had more of a problem over the years than other large ports with collisions and close calls among fishing vessels and freighters.

The container ship, the Mol Motivator, after it collided with a Chinese cargo ship laden with cement. Credit Nanhai Rescue Bureau, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“There have been occasional cases like everybody else, but nothing special,” he said.

Mr. Loynd, who is also the chairman of the International Tugmasters Association, a marine safety and advocacy group that represents the ship towing industry, noted that a powerful thunderstorm had been moving through the Hong Kong area about the time of the collision. But he cautioned that there was no information available yet on whether the vessels were under or close to the thunderstorm at the moment of impact.

Modern marine radar systems aboard freighters are very good at spotting lower-riding vessels, provided the systems are properly adjusted, Mr. Loynd said. But very heavy rainfall, as occurred at times during the thunderstorm, might degrade radar performance somewhat, he said, while the very frequent lightning strikes during the thunderstorm also might have affected radar.

Hong Kong has long had a reputation for heavy springtime fog. That has been compounded in recent years by severe smog, coming from factories in nearby mainland China as well as from sources in Hong Kong itself. Visibility fell to 1,800 feet during an especially dense predawn smog in August 2004, and four collisions involving a total of eight ships were recorded in a single hour, although no one was killed in any of them.

The search for any survivors from Monday’s collision was being conducted by the Guangdong Maritime Safety Administration, since the accident took place outside Hong Kong waters, the police said. Some Hong Kong departments were working with their mainland counterparts in the rescue effort.

The container ship, the Mol Motivator, was headed to Yantian, China, with 24 people on board, and suffered only minor damage, according to World Maritime News.

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