A senior marine police source says the sinking of the Jumbo restaurant in deep waters some 700 km south of Hong Kong is “possibly fishy”, while a marine insurance expert says some in the industry believe it could have been deliberately scuttled to save disposal costs.
The restaurant, which was being towed to an unknown destination, capsized and sank in deep water near the Xisha Islands on Sunday night according to owners Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises.
The marine officer said the facts were unknown but investigation was unlikely as the sinking was “not Hong Kong’s jurisdiction”.
Another former senior police officer said any insurance company “would be looking closely at the claim”, but insurance expert Andrew Brooker, Managing Director of Latitude Brokers, says it is unlikely the floating restaurant was insured in the first place.
“[They] would have to find an insurer who would accept the risk of her being towed 1,000 km in open ocean during monsoon season. The marine insurance market is very (very) small and even smaller for these types of risks. It’s very difficult to conceive that someone would have wanted that risk – so scuttling, as a marine insurance fraud, isn’t likely.”
“Wanting to avoid the costs/hassle of trying to dispose of her properly is a different story though,” Brooker told Transit Jam.
According to Brooker, disposal of the restaurant would have been expensive, with little scrap value after breakdown.
And while Brooker says there’s likely no significant environmental impact, aside from “presumably a ton of asbestos” aboard, the best the Chinese government could do would be to issue a fine and “try to recover the clean-up costs when things land onshore”.
“The problem is, she won’t be insured and she’s gone, so there’s no asset to attach” says Brooker.
The insurance expert says the saga is “bloody embarrassing” for Hong Kong’s marine reputation.
“This towage operation should have been approved while in Hong Kong waters by Marine Department (MarDep). For these sorts of tows, we usually have a towage arrangement survey, weather survey, condition survey on the barge and her watertightness and capability to complete the voyage etc etc. But, again, a lot of this is insurance driven – no insurer, no surveys. How much and how detailed the oversight and approval from the authorities will surely be important in determining what happened,” he says.
Marine Department, Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Department and Jumbo’s owners Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises have not returned calls.