Tugboat crew of Hong Kong’s troubled Jumbo Floating Restaurant in ‘dire situation’ under confinement at mainland Chinese port
Crewmen of the tugboat that towed Hong Kong’s Jumbo Floating Restaurant are in a “dire situation” and running out of food and water after being held at a mainland Chinese port for weeks over a probe into the ill-fated journey of the iconic vessel, according to operators.
A senior official of shipping company S&P Marine, which loaned tugboat Jaewon 9 to a South Korean operator to escort Jumbo out of Hong Kong, said the seven-member crew, including its captain, had arrived at Sanya Port on Hainan Island on June 30 and undergone a week of quarantine.
The group was then questioned by officials from China’s Maritime Safety Administration from July 6 to 7, and have been confined to their vessel ever since.
Jumbo left Hong Kong for a new home last month, but capsized near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea en route to Cambodia.
While S&P Marine said the incident happened on June 18, restaurant owner Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises, earlier said the vessel had only capsized on June 19 but not “sunk”, refusing to provide more details of its situation.
The fate of Jumbo still hangs in the balance as the restaurant owner has not provided any update on the vessel’s latest situation. The company did not respond to inquiries by the Post.
The incident has sparked widespread allegations that the vessel was sunk intentionally, a claim dismissed as “ridiculous” by the towing company which told the Post last month it was just “an accident without any foul play involved”.
The restaurant owner also said last month it would not receive any insurance payouts over the capsizing of the vessel as it was only covered by a third-party protection policy.
“The crew have been told by Chinese authorities not to leave the boat until investigation into the accident is wrapped up. They are exhausted. Water and food supplies are running low,” an S&P Marine official told the Post on condition of anonymity, saying the team – all South Koreans – were in a “dire situation”.
“The crew are still there and we have no idea when the investigation will be completed. In the meantime, we are bleeding. It’s really torturous for us.”
According to a statement by Jumbo’s owner on June 26, the tugboat that escorted the restaurant remained near the Paracel Islands to “help ensure the safety of the waterway”.
Following the accident, the tugboat stayed at sea for 12 days, with the crew struggling to prevent further accidents such as clashes with other passing ships, the source from S&P Marine said.
On June 20, Jaewon 9 encountered danger centred on a towing rope to Jumbo that had become entangled amid strong currents in a screw on the tugboat.
“We asked Chinese authorities for help and found divers who successfully sorted it out”, the official said, adding that it took the crew 10 days to reach Sanya.
The restaurant suspended operations in 2020 after it suffered losses of HK$100 million (S$17.7 million) because of the social unrest of 2019 and the Covid-19 pandemic that followed. Its owner announced in May that the restaurant would move away from Hong Kong for repairs and storage because of a lack of funds for maintenance.
A spokesman for the Marine Department said it had not received any request for help so far from the owner of Jumbo, the vessel’s flag state or the Sansha Maritime Safety Administration.
Pointing to the fact that Jumbo was registered in Sierra Leone in May 2022, he said overseas-registered vessels navigating outside Hong Kong waters were generally controlled and managed by their registered flag states in accordance with international maritime practices.
A spokesman for the Sansha Maritime Safety Administration said they were still looking into the incident and would answer to the public in due course.