Hong Kong Jumbo: Owners of Jumbo Floating Restaurant backtrack on shipwreck claims as authorities investigate

Jumbo Kingdom – an 80-meter three-story restaurant inspired by a Chinese imperial palace – encountered “adverse conditions” this past weekend as it was towed across the South China Sea. “The water soon got in before it started to leak,” its owners initially said in a statement on Monday.

“The water depth at the site is more than 1,000 meters [3,300 feet]making rescue work extremely difficult,” the statement reads.

But on Thursday, facing pressure from authorities to disclose the circumstances surrounding the apparent wreckage, the vessel’s owner, Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises Limited, said in a statement that the vessel and its tug were still in waters off the Paracel Islands (known as the Xisha Islands in China).

The statement, provided to the Hong Kong government, did not indicate whether the vessel was still afloat or had become separated from its tug.

The apparent change in messages follows a request by the Hong Kong Maritime Department for the restaurant group to provide a written report into the incident as part of an initial investigation.

A spokesperson for Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises Limited told CNN on Friday that it always used the term “turn over” to describe the incident and never claimed the ship had sunk.

Asked whether this contradicts previous statements, the spokesperson said the company was required “to report the depth of the waters where (the incident) occurred” and declined to answer whether that meant the ship was serviceable or remained afloat.

historical icon

Once the world’s largest floating restaurant, Jumbo Kingdom closed its doors indefinitely in 2020 as the double whammy of citywide protests and the pandemic contributed to losses of more than $13 million.

Hong Kong’s top tourist attraction, the restaurant has served as the setting for several films, including “Enter the Dragon” starring Bruce Lee and “James Bond: The Man with the Golden Gun”. It also hosted visiting luminaries including Queen Elizabeth II, Jimmy Carter and Tom Cruise.

Several proposals have been put forward to save the restaurant, but its high cost of maintenance has deterred potential investors, with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam also ruling out a possible government bailout to save the attraction.

The boat was towed from Hong Kong on June 14, after nearly half a century of mooring in the waters southwest of the city.

Although the owners initially refused to state the intended location, it was later revealed by the Department of the Navy that it was to be taken to a shipyard in Cambodia.

News of her sinking was met with consternation online, with many Hong Kong social media users lamenting the inelegant end of one of the city’s most recognizable historical icons.

Tourism lawmaker Perry Yiu Pak-leung said the sinking of the Jumbo Kingdom was a loss to the city’s heritage.

“Hong Kong must take this as a lesson. The government, conservationists, historians and the business sector must work together to protect and make good use of these [historic] sites,” he said. “We stopped too long.”

Hong Kong's Jumbo Floating Restaurant, an iconic but ancient tourist attraction designed as a Chinese imperial palace, is towed from Aberdeen Harbor on June 14, 2022.

Request an investigation

Hong Kong lawmakers are now urging the government to launch a more thorough investigation.

“We need to know if the tug company was involved in any negligence or human error at sea when they towed the Jumbo Kingdom ship,” said Tik Chi-yuen, president of the Third Side political party.

Stephen Li, a professor in the Department of Logistics and Maritime Studies at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said it was “quite unusual” for a ship to sink simply due to bad weather, adding that shipping is “very safe these days” due to advances in navigation technology.

But an investigation could take years, Li said, especially since it took place outside the city’s jurisdiction in international waters.

The Department of the Navy said in a statement on Wednesday that the ship’s owner had hired an agency to inspect the ship and make sure it was seaworthy before it was towed.

It is unclear whether the vessel was insured, potentially complicating any rescue operations.

Andrew Brooker, managing director of Hong Kong-based marine insurance company Latitude Brokers, said it was “incredibly unlikely” the vessel was insured for loss or damage.

“The marine insurance market does not like [to carry the risk of] 50-year-old barges being towed across 1,000 kilometers of open sea in typhoon season,” he said.

Brooker added that Jumbo Kingdom owners would not be legally required to insure the ship outside Hong Kong waters.

CNN’s Maggie Hiufu Wong and Jessie Yeung contributed the report.

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