Ten days after a short, few-lined statement informed that “due to adverse conditions encountered during transport in the China Sea”, the iconic Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant, one of the postcards of the city of Hong Kong, had “overturned at sea” (which has been interpreted by the whole world as a “shipwreck”), the strange case of the restaurant that “sinked” has far more questions than answers.
Starting with the most elementary of doubts: rollover or shipwreck? What, after all, happened to the famous floating restaurant, which for nearly half a century was one of the symbols of Hong Kong, but for the last 10 years was deep in debt?
Turned over or sank?
Much more than a simple technicality — has it tipped over or sunk? — what, in fact, happened in this strange case (because it’s not every day that a restaurant sinks…) is crucial to understand this story and analyze the actions that the company that owns the business now, eventually, intends to take.
If it has sunk, practically nothing can be done to recover the gigantic float, given the depth at the accident site – which, fortunately, did not cause any casualties, as it was being towed with no one on board.
But if it has just fallen into the sea and is still floating, its eventual recovery becomes much easier.
But that, perhaps, is not what their owners want.
And it is in this doubt that the controversy lies, which has intrigued Hong Kongers since last June 14, when whatever happened turned the emblematic Chinese restaurant into worldwide news: disaster or the old insurance scam ?
What victimized the grandiose floating restaurant?
How the doubts started
Doubts about what would have happened at sea that day were fueled by the very laconic statement from the company that owns the restaurant, Aberdeen Enterprises, the day after the “accident”.
Although he used a term that designates “capsized”, in English, a language still widely practiced in the former British colony in China), and did not mention “shipwreck”, other information, in the communiqué itself, that ” at the site, the depth exceeded 1,000 meters”, which “made it impossible to carry out any rescue work”, generated confusion and led everyone to deduce that the float had sunk, since it would make no sense to indicate the depth if it was still floating.
Newspapers around the world reported the peculiar “shipwreck”, but the truth is that, until now, it is not known if this literally happened.
It contributed — and continues to contribute — to the generalized misunderstanding, the precariousness of details provided by the company and the usual nebulousness of the information that comes from Chinese official bodies.
Hong Kong’s Maritime Department said it only learned of the incident through the media, and that it had asked those responsible for a “report of the incident” to launch an investigation – even though the incident took place hundreds of kilometers away from Hong Kong. Kong, close to the Paracel Islands, in waters outside the institution’s jurisdiction, which would even be a facilitator, if the event was intentional.
Pressed to provide more details about the case, the company that owns the restaurant released a new statement on Sunday, saying that the tugboat carrying the floating “remains in the area”, to “guarantee the safety of navigation”, without, however, giving further details. information—let alone clarify whether the restaurant sank or not.
But the company reaffirmed that in its first statement it used the word “capsized” instead of “sink”, and that it only cited depth “because this is part of the formalities required by the authorities” – also without giving further details.
Further fueling the mystery, the company’s spokesperson declined to say clearly whether the float had sunk or was still afloat, which seems to be the most likely.
no one went to check
But, as so far no one has gone to the site to find out, the doubt remains: the emblematic floating-restaurant would have just fallen and flooded, or really sunk to the depths of the China Sea, which would have been providential for its owners to get rid of the cost of redeeming it?
To further encourage speculation, the company that owns the restaurant, which was closed in 2020, due to the pandemic, but had been accumulating losses for more than 10 years (its debt already reached about 12 million dollars), until today has not informed where he was taking the gigantic floating: only that it “needed repairs”, that he “was looking for someone interested in buying it” and that he decided to tow it (no one knows where…) in the middle of the typhoon season in China Sea (which would justify the “adverse navigation conditions”, cited in the first statement as the reason for the accident) “before its license to operate in Hong Kong expired”, which would happen in the next few days.
Kitchen had already flooded
The company, however, stated that the vessel had been “inspected by a specialized agency”, before being towed, and that it was able to make the crossing, although, just 15 days earlier, an annex (also floating) of the restaurant itself, where the kitchen used to be, fell into Hong Kong Bay itself, where the enterprise was anchored.
For many, far from being an incident, the collapse of the kitchen may have been a premeditated way of demonstrating the vulnerability that the float had, and a “preparation” for the big blow that would follow: the intentional sinking of the entire complex, away from everyone’s eyes.
“What happened to Jumbo Kingdom has a name”, reacted an internet user, when commenting on the news about the “sinking” of the restaurant: “It’s the old ‘insurance scam'”.
Different, famous and huge
Jumbo Kingdom was not just a different and curious restaurant, as it was located on an immense floating.
It was also huge.
It was 80 meters long, five stories high, with tables and chairs for 2,300 customers, Chinese imperial palace style and even a dragon-shaped throne for tourists’ photos.
Opened in 1976 and visited by virtually every celebrity who has passed through the city since then – from Tom Cruise to Queen Elizabeth II – it has also served as a setting for films by James Bond, Bruce Lee and, more recently, Steven Soderbergh, who filmed Contagion there. , film about the pandemic, which, ironically, threw the lime shovel in the hopes of financial survival of the restaurant.
Jumbo Kingdom was more than just a restaurant. It was almost a monument in the city.
Hence the frustration of Hong Kongers with their withdrawal from the bay, and—even worse—with the outcome.
Since the fact was reported, many suspicions of “premeditated accident” hover over the case.
But the company that owns the restaurant claims that it will receive nothing for the accident, because the insurance it had only covered “incidents involving third parties”, not the floating boat itself, which would make any maneuver in this sense innocuous.
The company that owns the tugboat that transported the float also manifested itself (however, without further details), classifying the suspicions of fraud as “ridiculous” — an opinion that is shared even by some insurance companies.
“No business in the industry would agree to insure a barge with half a century of use going out to sea during typhoon season,” said an experienced Hong Kong marine insurance broker.
Even so, suspicions remain, since almost all doubts have not yet been answered.
The towing of large vessels by sea is always a delicate operation, which becomes even more critical when the weather conditions worsen, and the one being towed does not have its own means of locomotion, in case of need, as, apparently, it may have been the case of the Hong Kong float.
Examples of this abound.
In the 1950s, a large battleship of the Brazilian Navy simply disappeared in the middle of the Atlantic, while being towed towards England, where it would be scrapped — which is why it no longer had engines or any means of propulsion.
Hit by a hurricane, it disappeared at sea, taking with it eight crew members who were on board, in an incident that even resulted in the judgment of the captains of the two tugboats — click here to read about this controversial and dramatic case, which also exposed glaring failures committed by the Brasilian Navy.
Scams at sea are common
In the same way that convoys of this type generate risks, simulations of shipwrecks against boat insurance companies are even more common, since it is not always possible to determine what happened in the empty immensity of the sea.
Ever since marine insurance was invented, unscrupulous boat owners have tried to sabotage it.
In the past, when investigations were precarious, they were almost always successful.
In Brazil, a coup that worked
One of the most famous cases of its kind took place in Brazil, in 1897, when a Spanish shipping company in debt and a blindly obedient captain teamed up to simulate the grounding of the passenger ship Sarita, in the then desert and desert coast of Rio Grande do Sul.
And they did it so perfectly that nothing can be proved against them.
On the contrary, the fake commander, the Italian Cosme Marasciulo, ended up being adopted by the city, where he settled and gave rise to a large family, now well known in the region: the Marasciulo.
But, to avoid further blows of the kind, the place where the stranding was staged gained a lighthouse, which still exists today and, not by chance, was named after the ship that was purposely stranded there — click here to also read this other one. interesting story.