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Time for some Intelligent Decisions

by Guy Nowell 9 May 2020 09:42 BST

There are some phenomenally stupid people working for the Hong Kong Government. Most of us believe that sailing is an inherently healthy activity - just think of all that fresh air - so probably doesn’t need to have any daft regulations anyway, but there are plenty of administrative cracks through which to fall. There’s the distinction between pleasure vessels and commercial vessels, and between passengers and crew. Pleasure vessels of course are not allowed to carry passengers – that’s a job for a ferry - so they don’t benefit from exemptions given to vessels used for transportation. So it’s ok for a ferry to head off to Tap Mun or Po Toi packed to the gunwales laden with happy hikers, but it’s not ok for any more than eight people to congregate on a sailing boat. The difference is? What are these Government people smoking? And can I have some, please?

Here in Hong Kong there are signs that life is heading towards some sort of normal. Restaurants are allowed to have eight people at a table instead of four, but still have to limit seating to 50% of capacity. That's progress. The regulations are Gothic, convoluted, and continuously updated – if you are really interested in where we have got to, click here:

As of now, you are allowed to have a massage or go to the gym - and you can exercise in the gym without a mask (puff, pant) but have to wear one “before and after exercise within the gym...” So how does that make sense?

When it comes to boats, and especially boat racing, the people who are responsible for this nonsense in Hong Kong are the Marine Dept (MarDep) and the Food and Environmental Hygiene Dept (FEHD). It is easy to come to the conclusion that they know precious little about the utilisation of pleasure vessels, and you’d be absolutely right.

The Aberdeen Boat Club is allowed to go racing this Sunday – the ABC Summer Series Race #1 starts at 10.45 – with the first proviso being that all the boats depart from separate moorings. At the same time the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club will not be running racing today (Saturday) because the FEHD don’t like the idea of the class boats (Dragons, Flying 15s etc) all leaving at once from the same pontoon. You can’t make this stuff up.

We understand that (outside of racing, which is an “organised sporting activity”) sailors can go cruising, as long as they don’t drop anchor. However, they can tie up to a private mooring or to each other, as they are private. Someone please explain the social-distancing difference, and environmental hygiene consequences to health (if you can) between: 1. a boat with crew, moving 2. a boat with crew, anchored 3. a boat with crew, tied up to a private mooring, and 4. a boat with crew, tied up to another boat

Regulations slapped on pleasure vessels nearly always start off as hand-me-down regulations for commercial vessels, and even then there are glaring gaps in MarDep’s knowledge and understanding. We know someone who spent two years trying to license a fully kitted out RIB for passenger carrying purposes, but kept getting turned down because it was an inflatable! Heck, there is a difference between a pool toy and an inshore lifeboat, you know!

To be able to race in Hong Kong, the organiser needs a Race Permit, and right now MarDep are not issuing them – ABC excepted, tomorrow (see above). Why? “Because of Government guidelines,” which is the same as saying “because I say so”. This is the sort of reasoning which you can use to shut down a 3-year old, but it doesn’t wash too well with grown-ups. So while the recent relaxation of regulations mean that you can visit an amusement game centre, a fitness centre, a place of amusement, a place of public entertainment, a beauty parlour, a massage establishment (please keep your mask on) or a mah-jong ‘club’, you still can’t have a yacht race.

In truth, MarDep have dropped the ball here. Along with the rest of the Government, they have absolutely understanding of the havoc presently being wreaked in the city’s economy. In the leisure boating sector, charterers can’t charter, professional crew are being laid off, and repair yards are starved of work. The vast majority of companies involved in the industry are SMEs that are going to the wall – or have failed already. Meanwhile, the desk jockeys take a fully-salaried holiday, pausing to dispense the occasional nonsensical edict, and fiddling while Rome burns. Nero had nithing on this lot. MarDep appears to believe that pleasure vessels in Hong Kong are an irrelevance and a nuisance that they have to tolerate. The reality is that leisure boating is a substantial and important part of the Hong Kong economy, and deserves better treatment.

There have been no new cases of Covid-19 in Hong Kong for eight days now, and there have been no ‘local infections’ for 20 days. A total of 1,045 cases since the beginning of the epidemic has lead to four deaths. (For the record, 18 people died of measles in the first three months of 2019, but I do not recall Hong Kong being forced to a standstill.) The fact is that there is precious little Covid-19 floating around in Hong Kong, and practically zero chance of contracting it. Can you please, MarDep and FEHD, exercise some realistic common sense? Why is yacht racing being penalised? Can we have a happy ending to this unnecessary restriction, in addition to the happy endings in the massage parlours?

There is a moment in Jonathan Dimbleby’s tv portrait of Chris Patten, ‘The Last Governor’, when Patten and his advisors are sitting around the conference table in Government House awaiting news of the Legislative Council’s vote on universal suffrage. The Governor puts his head in his hands and says, “Dear God, they are such wankers.” That sums up my current feelings very nicely.

Standing by on 72.

Guy Nowell, Asia Editor,

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