Hong Kong’s Transport Department has promised to increase inspections of boats suspected of operating as unlicensed ferries after a government watchdog said not enough had been done to crack down on the illegal kaito services.

The Marine Department also said it “will actively follow up the recommendations” made by the Ombudsman for more frequent inspections and decoy operations.

Kaito ferry services
Photo: GovHK.

Kaito ferry services provide transport to islands around Hong Kong and remote parts of the city but some operate without a licence.

“In recent years, excursions to the outlying islands and remote local spots have become popular pastimes of the public. Given the thriving demand for kaito service, it is incumbent upon the authorities to step up monitoring of kaito service and curbing illegal carriage of passengers so as to ensure public safety,” said the Ombudsman Winnie Chu in a statement on Thursday.

An Ombudsman report released on Thursday showed, the Marine Department conducted an average of 45.5 special patrols per year between 2017 and 2020.

“We consider the frequency of patrols against illegal carriage of passengers too low in the past,” the report read.

Even when an inspection was conducted, officers “did not follow up or make further inquiries” to verify claims by suspected illegal operators.

The Transport Department also failed to help people differentiate between licenced and unlicensed kaito ferry services, according to the report.

The report made 10 recommendations to the two departments. The Marine Department was urged to conduct more frequent inspections and decoy operations, and transfer suspected illegal kaito operation cases to the Transport Department and the police.

The Office of the Ombudsman
The Office of the Ombudsman. Photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

The Transport Department was advised to push operators to display licence plates so people could distinguish between legal and illegal ferries. The department was also asked to review the provision of licensed kaito services in order “to alleviate the situation of insufficient supply.”

The Transport Department said it had prepared larger identification plates for legal operators to display in prominent locations on boats. The Marine Department said it would draw up clearer guidelines on inspections for frontline officers.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.