Hong Kong’s Jumbo Floating Restaurant has capsized but is still afloat in the South China Sea, according to its owners on Friday, days after the world’s media reported that the iconic tourist attraction had sunk while being towed to Cambodia.

Jumbo Floating Restaurant on June 14, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Through its PR firm Brunswick, Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises told HKFP that the boat is still afloat near the Xisha (Paracel) Islands.

A Brunswick staffer had no information on why there had been no photos or video from the scene. There was also no information on whether the restaurant was still salvageable.

The clarification came four days after media reported that the 46-year-old landmark had sunk. This was based on a brief Monday statement from the owners via Brunswick, that the “vessel encountered adverse conditions which water soon entered before it began to tip… unfortunately it capsized on Sunday.”

See also: Memes, mourning and metaphors as Hong Kong reacts to demise of iconic Jumbo Floating Restaurant

Jumbo Floating Restaurant on June 14, 2022. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

That statement did not use the word “sunk,” but added that the water depth was over 1,000 metres. The Chinese version of the statement said that the vessel had “completely filled with water” and overturned. No crew members were hurt.

Local media outlets including HKFP, as well as the New York Times, CNN, BBC and the Washington Post, all reported that the Jumbo Floating Restaurant had sunk.

Brunswick did not reply to multiple emails from HKFP earlier this week.

Questions raised

Confusion about the fate of the Hong Kong landmark began on Thursday night after the Marine Department said it had received the report it had requested from the restaurant’s owner.

According to the department’s Chinese-language statement, Jumbo was “still on the waters off Xisha Islands.”

Asked why it took almost four days to clarify what had happened to the floating restaurant, the PR firm told HKFP that it was aware of media reports that the vessel had sunk. It said the firm “followed up” with reporters.

Jumbo Floating Restaurant on June 14, 2022. Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

Jumbo Floating Restaurant had been a feature of Aberdeen Harbour since 1976. The popular tourist attraction, where a number of Hong Kong and international movies were shot, suffered accumulated deficits of more than HK$100 million since 2013. The restaurant ceased operating in 2020 due to Covid-19.

Its owner announced last month that the restaurant would be moved out of Hong Kong as it could not find a new operator to take over. The eatery’s separate kitchen barge capsized two days after that announcement.

The Marine Department said the company had failed to alert it of the latest incident ahead of informing the press.

JAEWON 9, the towboat that hauled Jumbo Floating Restaurant, is believed to have U-turned around the time of the capsize. Photo: Screenshot, via MarineTraffic.

Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises did not respond directly to HKFP’s question on Friday about why it did not notify the Marine Department earlier, saying only that it is “asking the towboat company why they did not tell [the department].”

December demise

Jumbo Floating Restaurant left Hong Kong on Tuesday last week under tow. Records show that the tugboat concerned encountered an incident last December, when a vessel it was towing capsized in bad weather.

The Marine Department confirmed with HKFP that the iconic restaurant was towed by JAEWON 9, a ship sailing under the South Korean flag.

JAEWON 9, the tugboat that towed Jumbo Floating Restaurant out of Hong Kong. Photo: MarineTraffic.

On December 13, a vessel which JAEWON 9 was towing from Hong Kong to South Korea sank after the towline snapped. With refloating attempts affected by poor weather, the vessel was eventually “recognised as total loss,” global ship database FleetMon said.

According to maritime analytics provider MarineTraffic, JAEWON 9 was scheduled to arrive in the Cambodian port of Sihanoukville this Monday.

Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises told HKFP on Friday that it would not comment on the tugboat’s history.

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Hillary Leung

Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.