As of September 5 rescue workers of the Guangdong Maritime Safety Administration were searching for 11 crew members missing from a collision which occurred three miles off Po Toi Island, just southeast of Hong Kong Island in the South China Sea. The Zhong Xing 2, a Chinese cargo ship which was traveling from Hebei Province, had 12 people aboard when it sank after the collision. Heavy with cement, the 320 foot cargo carrier collided with a container ship, the Mol Motivator in the pre-dawn accident. One surviving crew member, from mainland China, was rescued by a fishing boat. He suffered only minor injuries.

As one of the world’s busiest ports, Hong Kong is often plagued with heavy fog necessitating sonorous blasts from the freighters to warn smaller vessels of their presence. Compounded in recent years by severe smog, coming from factories in nearby mainland China as well as from sources in Hong Kong itself, visibility fell to 1,800 feet during an especially dense early morning smog in August 2004, and four collisions involving a total of eight ships were recorded in a single hour, although no one was killed in any of them.

According to Alan Loynd, the former senior salvage master of Hong Kong Salvage & Towage, the main marine salvage and towing company in the city, the collisions, including close calls with fishing vessels and freighters, were equivalent to those on other large ports.

It has been said by Mr. Loynd, also the chairman of the International Tugmasters Association, a marine safety and advocacy group that represents the ship towing industry, a powerful thunderstorm had been moving through the Hong Kong area about the time of the collision. However, he stated, there was no information available at that time on whether the vessels were under or close to the thunderstorm at the moment of impact.

Normally, modern marine radar systems aboard freighters are capable of spotting lower-riding vessels, provided the systems are properly adjusted, but, as stated by Mr. Loynd, very heavy rainfall, or a thunderstorm, as on the night of the incident, might degrade radar performance somewhat and the frequent lightning strikes during the thunderstorm may have affected radar.

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