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Tuesday, Apr 23, 2024

Hong Kong floats new penalties for operating boats under influence of alcohol, drugs

Hong Kong floats new penalties for operating boats under influence of alcohol, drugs

Change would close gap in current legislation, as city has no dedicated law to regulate operation of vessels while under influence.

Anyone caught operating a boat in Hong Kong while under the influence of alcohol or drugs could face new penalties, according to legislation proposed by the government that would close a gap in the current law.

Authorised officers will be empowered to require anyone to take a breathalyser or drug test once the law is passed, while first-time offenders will be subjected to fines of up to HK$50,000 (US$6,383) and imprisonment for a maximum of three years.

Authorities had been considering the introduction of measures since 2015 and had concluded specific legislation was appropriate for regulating the use of alcohol and drugs in boating, according to a legislative paper submitted by the Transport and Logistics Bureau and Marine Department on Thursday.

Currently, without a dedicated law, seafarers who operate a vessel under the influence may only be prosecuted for a general offence of “endangering the safety of others at sea”.

Under the proposed legislation, a person involved in operating a moving vessel would commit an offence if he or she is under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the extent of being incapable of properly controlling the vessel, or had alcohol exceeding the prescribed limits inside their body including on their breath or in their urine or blood.

The new law would apply to all vessels within Hong Kong’s waters, including rivers and the ocean.

Enforcement procedures would be similar to the ones used for policing road users, with officers able to require drivers to undergo a breathalyser test.

Officers could order a follow-up breath analysis if the person fails the initial test, according to the paper.

Similar rules would apply for drug detection, with officers able to ask vessel operators to take oral or urine tests. Further screening could be carried out at a designated testing centre, a police station or hospital.

Depending on the type and seriousness of the offence and the circumstances of the case, proposed penalties include fines ranging from HK$5,000 to HK$50,000 as well as possible imprisonment for a period from six months to three years.

The court may also order the person be barred from operating a vessel for a minimum of six months, with a maximum disqualification of five years. The person could be barred for life if they had a previous conviction for the same offence.

In comparison, drink-driving offenders risk a three-year jail term and a maximum fine of HK$25,000. They might also be disqualified from driving for six months to five years.

Authorities aim to introduce the proposed legislation before the end of this year and lawmakers will discuss the bill further on Monday.

Andy Lee Chi-hung, founder and skipper of the Hong Kong Yacht & Start-up Association, said the proposed legislation lacked teeth as it only targeted those operating vessels and not the owners, while the enforcement solely relied on whether departments had enough staff to do checks.

“It is common to see people drive boats or yachts after drinking alcohol, especially at night, but rare to see any Marine Department officers conducting checks,” said the veteran skipper, who had spent almost every day of the past 26 years at the Causeway Bay Typhoon Shelter teaching people yacht manoeuvres.

Some wonder if the new measures to prevent people under the influence of drugs or alcohol from operating a vessel will be effective if boat owners are not targeted.

“Once the boat drivers are caught driving under the influence, the boat or yacht involved should be barred from sailing for a period of time. That should have better deterrent effects on the owners,” he said.

Lawmaker Gary Zhang Xinyu also noted that it was common to see people drive boats after drinking alcohol because there was no law against it.

“I think the legislation will help prevent most people from sailing under the influence. I would suggest the related departments, including the Marine Department and marine police, conduct random checks on the water or after a boat docks at the pier. That certainly would help a lot,” he said.


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