“The depth of the water at the scene is more than 1,000 meters [3,300 feet]which makes it extremely difficult to carry out salvage work,” the statement read.
But on Thursday, in the face of pressure from authorities to disclose the circumstances surrounding the apparent wreckage, the ship’s owner, Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises Limited, said in a statement that the ship and accompanying tug were still in waters near the Paracel Islands (known as the Xisha Islands in China ).
The statement, provided to the Hong Kong government, did not say whether the ship was still afloat or had separated from its tug.
The apparent change in courier follows a request from the Hong Kong Maritime Department asking the restaurant group to provide a written report of the incident as part of an initial investigation.
A spokesperson for Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises Limited told CNN on Friday that it had always used the term “capsize” to describe the incident and had never claimed the vessel had sunk.
Asked if this contradicted previous statements, the spokesperson said the company was required “to report the depth of waters where (the incident) occurred”, and declined to answer if this meant that the ship was salvageable or remained afloat.
Hong Kong’s main tourist attraction, the restaurant had served as the backdrop for many films, including “Enter the Dragon” with Bruce Lee, and “James Bond: The Man with the Golden Gun”. It has also hosted visiting personalities such as Queen Elizabeth II, Jimmy Carter and Tom Cruise.
Several proposals had been put forward to save the restaurant, but its high maintenance cost had 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 away from Hong Kong on June 14, after nearly half a century moored in waters southwest of the city.
Although the owners initially refused to state its intended location, it was later revealed by the Navy Department that it was to be transported to a shipyard in Cambodia.
News of its sinking has sparked consternation online, with many Hong Kong social media users lamenting the inelegant end of one of the city’s most recognized historical icons.
Tourism lawmaker Perry Yiu Pak-leung said the sinking of Jumbo Kingdom was a loss to the city’s heritage.
“Hong Kong should take this as a lesson. Government, conservationists, historians and the commercial sector should work together to protect and make good use of these [historic] sites,” he said. “We stalled too long.
request an investigation
Hong Kong lawmakers are now calling on the government to launch a deeper investigation.
“We need to know whether the tug company was involved in malpractice or human error at sea when towing the Jumbo Kingdom ship,” said Tik Chi-yuen, chairman 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 rare” for a ship to sink simply because of bad weather, adding that shipping is “very safe these days” given 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 Navy Department said in a statement on Wednesday that the ship’s owner had engaged an agency to inspect the vessel and ensure it was seaworthy before being towed away.
It is unclear whether the ship was insured, which could complicate rescue operations.
Andrew Brooker, managing director of Hong Kong-based marine insurance company Latitude Brokers, said it was “incredibly unlikely” that the vessel would be insured for loss or damage.
“The marine insurance market does not like [to carry the risk of] 50-year-old barges towed 1,000 kilometers of open sea during typhoon season,” he said.
Brooker added that the owners of Jumbo Kingdom would not have been legally required to insure the ship outside of Hong Kong waters.
CNN’s Maggie Hiufu Wong and Jessie Yeung contributed reporting.