“The water depth at the site is over 1,000 meters [3,300 feet]which makes it extremely difficult to carry out salvage work, “the statement read.
But Thursday, exposed to pressure from the authorities to reveal the circumstances surrounding the apparent wreckage, the vessel’s owner, Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises Limited, said in a statement that the vessel and its accompanying tugboat were still in waters near the Paracel Islands (known as the Xisha Islands in China).
The declaration given to the Hong Kong government did not indicate whether the vessel was still afloat or whether it had been separated from its tugboat.
The apparent shift in announcements follows a request from Hong Kong’s Navy Department to the restaurant group to provide a written report of the incident as part of a preliminary investigation.
A spokesman for Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises Limited told CNN on Friday that they had always used the term “capsize” to describe the incident and had never claimed the vessel had sunk.
Asked if this was contrary to previous statements, the spokesman said that the company was obliged to “report the depth of the water where (the incident) took place,” and declined to answer whether this meant the vessel could be rescued or remained fluid.
The restaurant was one of Hong Kong’s main tourist attractions and had formed the backdrop for several films, including “Enter the Dragon” starring Bruce Lee and “James Bond: The Man with the Golden Gun.” It also hosted visiting fixtures, including Queen Elizabeth II, Jimmy Carter and Tom Cruise.
Several proposals had been made to save the restaurant, but its high maintenance costs had deterred potential investors, with Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam also ruling out a potential rescue package from the government to save the attraction.
The boat was towed away from Hong Kong on June 14 after nearly half a century moored in the city’s southwestern waters.
Although the owners initially refused to disclose its intended location, it was later revealed by the Marine Department that it was to be taken to a shipyard in Cambodia.
The news of its sinking had been met with astonishment online, with many social media users in Hong Kong lamenting the inelegant ending to one of the city’s most acclaimed historical icons.
Tourism lawmaker Perry Yiu Pak-leung said the sinking of the Jumbo Kingdom was a loss to the city’s heritage.
“Hong Kong should take this as a lesson. The government, conservationists, historians and the commercial sector should work together to protect and make good use of these. [historic] sites, “he said.” We stalled for too long. “
Encourages a study
Hong Kong lawmakers are now urging the government to launch a more thorough investigation.
“We need to know if the tugboat company was involved in any kind of malpractice or human error at sea when they towed the Jumbo Kingdom vessel,” said Tik Chi-yuen, chairman of the Third Side Political Party.
Stephen Li, a professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University’s Department of Logistics and Maritime Studies, said it was “quite uncommon” for a vessel to sink simply due to bad weather, adding that maritime transport is “very safe these days” given advances in navigation technology.
But an investigation could take years, Li said, especially since it took place outside the city’s jurisdiction in international waters.
The Navy Department said in a statement Wednesday that the shipowner had hired an agency to inspect the vessel and make sure it was seaworthy before it was towed.
It is not clear if the vessel was insured, potentially complicating any salvage operations.
Andrew Brooker, CEO of Hong Kong-based marine insurance company Latitude Brokers, said it was “incredibly unlikely” that the vessel was insured for loss or damage.
“The marine insurance market does not like [to carry the risk of] 50-year-old barges are being towed over 1,000 kilometers of open sea during the typhoon season, “he said.
Brooker added that the owners of Jumbo Kingdom would not have been legally obliged to insure the vessel outside Hong Kong’s waters.
CNN’s Maggie Hiufu Wong and Jessie Yeung contributed reporting.