‘Nightmare’ waters off Hong Kong

Published on January 22nd, 2018

by Andrew McNicol, South China Morning Post
The fatal collision between a Volvo Ocean Race yacht and a fishing vessel east of Waglan Island, just outside Hong Kong waters, on Saturday (Jan. 20) has highlighted the dangers of racing in or around one of the busiest ports in the world.

Hong Kong was ranked the sixth-busiest port in the world from 2007-2016, according to the International Association of Ports and Harbours, with an estimated 300,000 to 400,000 vessels entering and leaving annually.

The Marine Department records a total of 18,540 Hong Kong-licensed vessels in 2016, an increase from 13,519 in 2007. Fishing carriers, sampans and vessels – class three vessels – make up 6,631 of the total. Figures for vessels from the mainland plying adjoining waters were not available but sailors’ accounts suggest they are numerous.

“When you sail out of Hong Kong on the first night, it’s a shocker,” said Hong Kong policeman Justin Shave, who has raced on Hong Kong boats Ragamuffin and Scallywag. “Fishing boats and nets are everywhere – it’s a nightmare.

Vestas 11th Hour Racing getting repaired from collision with fishing boat.

“They are extremely hard to predict and the navigation lights are not clear. Fishing vessels may drop miles of fishing lines in the water with sailing boats having to duck and weave through.”

Weaving through the heavy marine traffic and avoiding boats and fishing lines requires extra concentration at the best of times. Introduce seven 65-foot long, 10-storey high Volvo Ocean Race boats to the mix and the chance of accidents surely increases.

Former America’s Cup China team member and Hong Kong Catamarans project manager Thierry Barot said the competing sailing boats’ speed – travelling at roughly 20 to 30 knots – may have played a role in the collision, which killed one of the 10 fishing vessel crew members.

“The boats go over 20 knots, so the distance to see [in front of you] and react becomes shorter and shorter. It makes a difference, just like if you’re driving on the highway.

“When you spot something, the first thing to do is to identify what it is, where it’s going and where you’re going. You are always estimating with the resources and electronics on board, but the problem is that you’re going fast.”

But Barot is quick to defend the “pure” and “open” waters, insisting safety is at the top of every captain’s priority.

“These guys are professional and they know how to manage dramatic situations because there is a lot of training these days; safety and security,” said Barot. “Thirty years ago you just got on a boat, but now they have to pass their yacht masters and different safety exams.

“[Collisions] happen at sea, on the road, and in the air, everywhere. It was night time, the fishermen were doing their job and so were the sailors. It’s bad news for everyone, but the sea is for everyone – it must be shared.”

Robby Nimmo contributed to this report.

To see Leg 4 crew lists… click here.

The teams will leave Hong Kong on February 1 for a 100 nm Leg 5 to Guangzhou in China which will include a race on February 3 in the In-Port Series. The teams leave on February 5 to travel to Hong Kong for the start of the 6100 nm Leg 6 on February 7 to Auckland, New Zealand.

Area of accident using grab of AIS map at 12:24 AM (local time) on January 22.

Race detailsTrackerScoreboardRace routeFacebookYouTube

Leg 4 – Final Results
1. Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag (HKG), David Witt (AUS), Finished on Jan 19 at 17:45:42 UTC
2. Dongfeng Race Team (CHN), Charles Caudrelier (FRA), Finished on Jan 19 at 20:33:22 UTC
3. Team AkzoNobel (NED), Simeon Tienpont (NED), Finished on Jan 20 at 00:21:16 UTC
4. MAPFRE (ESP), Xabi Fernández (ESP), Finished on Jan 20 at 01:51:10 UTC
5. Team Brunel (NED), Bouwe Bekking (NED), Finished on Jan 20 at 04:00:56 UTC
6. Turn the Tide on Plastic (POR), Dee Caffari (GBR), Finished on Jan 20 at 04:54:00 UTC
7. Vestas 11th Hour Racing (DEN/USA), Mark Towill (USA), Retired
DTF – Distance to Finish; DTL – Distance to Lead

Overall Results (after 4 of 11 legs)
1. MAPFRE (ESP), Xabi Fernández (ESP), 33 points
2. Dongfeng Race Team (CHN), Charles Caudrelier (FRA), 29
3. Vestas 11th Hour Racing (DEN/USA), Charlie Enright (USA), 23
4. Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag (HKG), David Witt (AUS), 19
5. Team Brunel (NED), Bouwe Bekking (NED), 17
6. Team AkzoNobel (NED), Simeon Tienpont (NED), 14
7. Turn the Tide on Plastic (POR), Dee Caffari (GBR), 8

2017-18 Edition: Entered Teams – Skippers
Team AkzoNobel (NED), Simeon Tienpont (NED)
Dongfeng Race Team (CHN), Charles Caudrelier (FRA)
MAPFRE (ESP), Xabi Fernández (ESP)
Vestas 11th Hour Racing (DEN/USA), Charlie Enright (USA)
Team Sun Hung Kai/Scallywag (HKG), David Witt (AUS)
Turn the Tide on Plastic (POR), Dee Caffari (GBR)
Team Brunel (NED), Bouwe Bekking (NED)

Background: Racing the one design Volvo Ocean 65, the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean Race begins in Alicante, Spain on October 22 2017 with the final finish in The Hague, Netherlands on June 30 2018. In total, the 11-leg race will visit 12 cities in six continents: Alicante, Lisbon, Cape Town, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Guangzhou, Auckland, Itajaí, Newport, Cardiff, Gothenburg, and The Hague. A maximum of eight teams will compete.

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