Lawmakers in call to help Hong Kong’s struggling Jumbo Floating Restaurant as capsizing of 30-metre kitchen barge adds to woes

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A kitchen barge connected to Hong Kong’s famed Jumbo Floating Restaurant capsized on Wednesday morning – triggering calls from a group of lawmakers for the government to do more to help the struggling business before it pulls out of the city.

The incident involving the 30-metre barge came barely two days after the restaurant’s operator announced it would leave Hong Kong because of a lack of funds for maintenance.

Police said they received a call from a security guard at 11.52pm on Tuesday that the barge attached to the 46-year-old restaurant in Aberdeen was sinking.

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Police and firefighters inspected the vessel, which had tilted by almost 90 degrees, and found no one was injured or missing. No evacuation was needed.

The Jumbo restaurant in Aberdeen. Photo: Sam Tsang
The Jumbo restaurant in Aberdeen. Photo: Sam Tsang

“Marine police and firefighters came to the boat to check what had gone wrong. The investigation is still going on,” a​ spokeswoman for parent company Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises said on Wednesday morning.

The spokeswoman later confirmed the barge had suddenly capsized in the early hours of Wednesday.

“The kitchen barge has undergone regular maintenance and passed the Marine Department’s annual inspection a few weeks ago [mid-April]. The group will cooperate with the authorities in the investigation into the incident,” she said.

Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises announced on Monday that because funds for maintenance to meet government requirements had dried up, it would move the facility out of Hong Kong for repairs and storage after its licence expired in June, while waiting for a new operator to take over.

Hong Kong leader rejects calls to aid struggling Jumbo Floating Restaurant

The company said it had to spend millions annually on inspections, repairs and maintenance, which was “a heavy financial burden” under the current economic environment.

Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises is a subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Melco International Development, a gaming and entertainment operator.

Ocean Park, which originally had plans to take over the facility as proposed in the 2020 policy address, told the company it had failed to identify a suitable third party to operate it.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday said the government would not pump money into the attraction, adding that the authorities could do nothing if both parties had failed to come to an agreement.

On Wednesday, Peter Koon Ho-ming said he and six other lawmakers – Judy Chan Kapui, Perry Yiu Pak-leung, Michael Lee Chun-keung, Benson Luk Hon-man, Kenneth Fok Kai-kong and Stephen Wong Yuen-shan – were planning to issue a joint letter to the government, urging it not to give up on the floating restaurant.

“There are many ways to preserve the vessel, which is a collective memory of Hong Kong people. We also understand that public money should be used prudently, but this vessel is more than 40 years old and we should keep it,” he said.

Koon also said collaborating with the Jockey Club, which had been involved with several heritage and revitalisation projects, should be considered as one of the solutions.

Yiu, who represent the tourism sector in the legislature, said the restaurant had a historical and cultural significance and he hoped the government would give the operator time to find a “white knight”.

“It is not feasible for the government to use public money to fund the business operations of the restaurant. But from the perspective of conservation and shaping the tourist attraction, is there any room for the government to take part?” he said on a radio show.

“The law requires the licence to be renewed every three years so the safety of the boat is guaranteed. The government should consider whether there is room to exempt the procedures and licence fees.”

No one was hurt when the Jumbo Floating Restaurant’s kitchen barge capsized. Photo: Jelly Tse
No one was hurt when the Jumbo Floating Restaurant’s kitchen barge capsized. Photo: Jelly Tse

Chan, a New People’s Party lawmaker, also called for an exemption on licence fees, adding that other than providing funds, the government could offer policy support.

“The government seems to be treating the facility as just a barge but it actually carries a lot of cultural and tourism values,” she told the same programme.

Chan said the next government would set up a new Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau which could explore the revitalisation of the restaurant and promote the city’s fishing culture. She also suggested the government collaborate with the Jockey Club to revitalise the restaurant, as it did for Tai Kwun, the former Central Police Station.

But business sector lawmaker Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung poured cold water on the idea.

“We cannot ask the club to take over a project like that. The organisation needs an overall plan on who will operate the project, and how much it will cost. Charities have the money, but their money should be used on projects that are worthy,” Lam said.

Engineering sector lawmaker Lo Wai-kwok agreed. He said the restaurant’s problem was that it lacked business opportunities.

“It’s a pity. It’s not something that can be revived by pumping money into it or giving pressure to the government,” he added.

Additional reporting by Cannix Yau and Christy Leung

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