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Hong Kong Mourns as Search is Suspended for Missing Ferry Disaster Victims, Death Toll Rises to 39

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October 5, 2012

HONG KONG–A young girl hospitalized in critical condition after Hong Kong’s worst maritime disaster in a generation succumbed to her injuries late Friday after a four-day fight, raising the death toll from the tragedy to 39.

The girl, Tsui Hoi-ying, was 10 years old, the Hospital Authority said, and died around 9 p.m. local time Friday. She had been thrown into the water Monday night after the boat she was on with her family collided with a high-speed commuter ferry and quickly sank, killing nearly one-third of those on board, including her father. There were no fatalities and few injuries on the ferry.

The sunken boat, owned by local utility Hongkong Electric Co, was carrying some 120 staff and their families who had won a lucky draw to view fireworks over the city’s Victoria Harbor to celebrate National Day in China. Ms. Tsui–who had also been celebrating her birthday that day–was among them.

News of Ms. Tsui’s death came on the same day that rescuers suspended their efforts to locate any further missing victims from the boat collision, as all the missing have been accounted for. No victims have been found since Tuesday.

Ms. Tsui’s passing also raised the proportion of kindergarten, primary school students and recent college graduates among the fatalities to at least a quarter.

Students and families on Friday continued to mourn the dead and posted notes of condolences in schools and community centers across the city, some on paper shaped like fanciful hearts, others attached to small paper swans.

Hong Kong’s education bureau on Friday morning said seven kindergarten and primary students were killed in the tragedy, a number that didn’t include Ms. Tsui.

At St. Stephen’s College Preparatory School in Stanley, a beach neighborhood popular with expatriates, the mood was somber, said vice-principal Wong Sing-tung. One 7-year-old British national, Nicholas Belshaw, was a second grader at the school and died in the crash along with his mother.

The boy was a popular student who was “very cheerful and sporty and liked ball games very much,” said Mr. Wong. Nicholas’s father and sister survived the collision, but couldn’t be reached to comment.

Across the harbor at a Catholic girls’ school in Kowloon, fifth-graders mourned the death of one of their classmates and prayed for the recovery of her sister, a second-grader who was hospitalized in stable condition. The fifth-grader had been a prefect, or student leader, said Pauline Yuen, principal at Good Hope School

“She had leadership potential, good conduct-she was helpful and responsible. A very happy girl,” said Ms. Yuen. The identities of the two girls haven’t been made public by authorities. The second-grader is among the 13 passengers rescued from the sunken boat who remain hospitalized as of Friday evening. Nearly 80 others who were injured in the disaster have already been discharged.

The mourning at the schools took place as Hong Kong entered the second of a three-day mourning period, during which flags throughout the city were lowered to half staff. On Thursday, the city came to a three-minute standstill as officials, lawmakers and commuters bowed their heads in silent memory of the dead, and boats in the harbor sounded long notes in mournful tribute.

Among the dead were two recent college graduates from the mechanical engineering department at the University of Hong Kong, where professors and students paid tribute to them on Friday.

The department turned its website into black and white and remade its banner into a rose with a caption that read “Rest in peace Thomas & Pieta.” Thomas Koo and Pieta Leung-both of whom received their undergraduate degrees in 2010-were strong students who were proud of their jobs at Hongkong Electric, one of the city’s two utilities, said department head Li Yuguo, who described such jobs as among the most coveted for the department’s graduates.

Mr. Leung was a new Hongkong Electric recruit, said Mr. Li, and had only been part of the company for a month or so before boarding the ill-fated boat. He was on the cusp of graduating with a master’s in philosophy; and all that remained was to complete his oral thesis defense.

“That was the final hurdle for him,” said Mr. Li, who described Mr. Leung as both positive and modest.

“He was just a normal Hong Kong young man,” Mr. Li said.

– By Te-Ping Chen, (c) 2012 Dow Jones & Company

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