Hong Kong harbour

Hong Kong - Six people were missing after two boats collided in waters off Hong Kong late on Thursday, government officials and police said, in the latest incident to hit the city's busy waterways.

The accident comes after maritime fears were exposed when a ferry collision claimed 39 lives in October last year, in the city's worst sea disaster in decades.

Officials said a 96-metre-long (315 foot) boat carrying construction waste collided with another vessel carrying sand off Stanley, located on the south-east of Hong Kong Island, throwing 11 people into the water.

All of the 11 were on the boat that carried construction waste, which sank soon after the collision. Both vessels were from mainland China.

Five people were pulled from the water and two of them were taken to hospital for treatment, while the hunt for the six missing remained under way after midnight.

“We are still searching for the six, we don't know whether they are dead or alive,” a government spokeswoman told AFP, adding that rescue boats and divers had been sent to the area for the search.

It was not immediately clear what caused the collision or the nationalities of those missing. Officials said the visibility was around 2 nautical miles (3.7 kilometres) around the time of the crash.

The city's worst maritime catastrophe in 40 years last October saw a high-speed passenger ferry collide with a pleasure boat carrying around 120 people to watch national day fireworks.

The captains of the boats involved were last week each charged with 39 counts of manslaughter and face life in prison if convicted.

Fatal accidents are rare in Hong Kong despite its crowded waters, which often see high-speed hydrofoils vying for space with tourist junks, luxury yachts and a century-old public ferry system.

Investigators have pored over last year's crash, trying to piece together how such an accident could have happened in a city which prides itself on its state-of-the-art transport infrastructure.

But a crash between a passenger ferry and a barge earlier this month, which resulted in 39 people being injured, renewed questions about the city's maritime safety. - Sapa-AFP