The head of a commission tasked with investigating Hong Kong’s worst maritime disaster in a generation ruled Friday that a series of public hearings can begin next week, despite objections from the city’s chief prosecutor, who indicated he may bring manslaughter charges against crew members.
Chief prosecutor Kevin Zervos had argued earlier that week that public hearings on the case could generate negative coverage and make it harder for the seven crew–who were arrested soon after the collision and quickly released–to get a fair trial should they be criminally charged. A decision on whether to charge the crew will likely come by January, Mr. Zervos said.
On Oct. 1, a boat owned by Hong Kong Electric set off filled with families and employees to watch fireworks over Victoria Harbor in celebration of China’s National Day. While en route, a commuter ferry collided with the boat, which rapidly sank, killing dozens, including at least eight children.
The commission’s chairman rebuffed the prosecutor’s request to delay the public hearings, in part because Mr. Zervos said that the police had nearly finished their investigation into the October collision near Lamma Island, which killed 39 people. And while Mr. Zervos raised fears that misleading or damaging evidence might be aired in the public hearings that wouldn’t be admissible in court, the chairman also dismissed such concerns.
“The commission has no intention of presiding over a free-for-all, in which witnesses are invited to speculate or guess in their testimony,” he wrote in his Friday ruling.
To date, some 30 boxes of evidence connected to the incident have been compiled, though some individuals involved have yet to give their own account of what happened, lawyers representing both the government and crew members at a preliminary hearing on Wednesday said.
Witnesses to be called in public hearings in the coming months will include marine and police experts, as well as passengers and crew members from both boats, among others.
The commission is expected to report its findings to the city’s chief executive by April 22.
(c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.