Hundreds of residents and boat owners – many of whom live aboard their vessels – marched across the private residential enclave of Discovery Bay on Sunday in silent protest at the local marina’s abrupt plan to clear out its berths for renovations at the end of the year.
Clad in white, and flanked by throngs of supporters, they marched from Discovery Bay Marina Club on Lantau, Hong Kong’s largest outlying island, to the community’s North Plaza with children, friends and pets in tow.
Last month, they were told by the club that memberships and berthing permits would be terminated by December 31 for “extensive renovations” and they had four months to relocate their boats.
With a severe shortage of mooring places in Hong Kong, owners said four months was not enough time to search for a new berth. Without moorings, their vessels would lose most of their value, as few would want to buy them.
Between 150 and 200 families live on boats in the marina, according to local residents.
One liveaboard boat owner who gave his name as Chris said the club’s move would likely bankrupt him as he would be forced into the rental market while having to pay off his mortgage for another 13 years.
“It’s an emotional time now. My wife has been crying a lot and I’ve nearly broken down … after getting over the initial anger and frustration,” he said.
“The sadness comes from the fact that we will be losing what is effectively our home. This is very short notice to have to completely rearrange your life.”
In search of a more idyllic lifestyle free from the jaws of the city’s sky high rents, the Briton bought the boat and moved into it three years ago with his wife and three children. It cost him about HK$6 million (US$769,000).
He found it hard to understand why the club did not make its plans clearer to members, while still charging for membership and liveaboard fees.
“Everyone here faces a crisis,” said boat owner Domenico Antico, a co-organiser of the march.
“We are still awaiting concrete feedback from the [Hong Kong] Resort Company, [developer of Discovery Bay and a principal subsidiary of HKR International].”
The company could not be reached for comment on Sunday.
Antico estimated Sunday’s turnout to be far higher than the 300 they had expected and “closer to 1,000” at its peak.
“We hope to send a message,” he said. “We don’t know where to go, we don’t know what to do and we need help from the government.”