The rare and shocking arson onboard a train near the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station on a busy Friday night has left 18 injured. Among them, four are in critical condition. The MTR Corporation has formed an investigation panel.

Among the other victims, two are in serious condition, three are stable, and nine were discharged. They were brought to the Kwong Wah Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Queen Mary Hospital, Princess Margaret Hospital and the Prince of Wales Hospital Friday night.

According to preliminary investigation by police, the suspect poured flammable liquid onto himself and others before setting it alight.

[Graphic images below.]

fire mtr

A 15-year-old secondary school student is no longer in critical condition. She suffered burns on her legs and the back of her hands, but she is conscious and can communicate.

Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said: “she needs to rest right now, but the doctor says she can probably be transferred to a regular ward after her condition stabilises in a few days.”

Cheung said the government will look into whether the injured have any welfare or economic needs: “Our medical team will use the best, the highest quality of medical services – I wish them quick recovery.”

injured student

A Taiwanese tourist is among those who are still critically injured. Cheung said he understood that a friend of hers in Hong Kong has contacted her family and they will travel to Hong Kong as soon as possible.

The three others who were critically injured included two women and the suspect. The condition of one of the women turned from serious to critical on Saturday afternoon.

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Health Secretary Ko Wing-man said the critical injuries were mainly caused by inhaling poisonous or hot smoke.

The suspect, a 60-year-old man surnamed Cheung, was arrested for arson when he admitted to police that he started the fire as he was being transferred to the hospital, but according to Kwok Pak-chung, the Yau Tsim district commander, his words spoken in the ambulance were incoherent.

The police said suspected fire accelerants in liquid form were seized at the scene, and initial investigation revealed that the man set the fire due to personal reasons.

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“The man committed the act alone and it was not an organised crime. The mental condition of the arrested person is one of the directions of the police investigation,” the police said.

“Initial investigation showed that the incident was not a terrorist attack or attack against the public transport system. Active investigation by the District Crime Squad of the Yau Tsim District is underway.”

The man reportedly shouted “you motherfuckers, I’ll burn you all to death.” Other passengers claimed that he said his son was murdered.

Tsim Sha Tsui fire hospital
Police speaking to the suspect’s family member.

Health secretary Ko confirmed the man has a record of mental illness.

“He was relatively stable during a long period of time, but indeed he should have received treatment recently – he did not show up to receive his treatment. Health care workers tried to contact him for a follow-up consultation, but he could not be reached,” Ko said.

Tsim Sha Tsui
Scene after the incident. Photo: Police

Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok strongly condemned the arson and praised MTR staff members, disciplinary forces and passengers who acted well to evacuate quickly after the incident and avoided further injuries.

The MTR Corporation has formed an investigation panel which will produce a preliminary report in a month. It will work with the government to look into the incident.

mtr fire tsim sha tsui
Photo: Catherine Lai/HKFP.

Operations director Adi Lau Tin-shing said the car involved did not have security cameras when asked by reporters, but he said that since 2004 – after the last major arson incident in the MTR system – all new cars purchased have had CCTV cameras installed. He said the MTRC has been procuring cameras to update the old cars with CCTV.

Security checks

Transport Secretary Anthony Cheung Bing-ling said that risk management and the efficiency of rail service has to have a “good balance,” when asked about the need for security checks.

“Everyday over five million trips are made on the MTR system in Hong Kong – especially during peak hours, there are a large amount of people on trains or platforms, so security checks are not easy measures,” he said.

mtr fire tsim sha tsui
Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

He also said Hong Kong’s rail system has been ranked highly in handling security risks compared to other cities.

“Until yesterday, there were only two similar arson incidents on record [the last in 2004], which shows that our system is effective. Of course we cannot underestimate anything, but we also cannot adopt measures that do not balance with the risks.”

The Red Cross has set up a special psychological support hotline on 3628 1180 to assist the needy.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.