Hong Kong’s famed Jumbo Floating Restaurant sinks in South China Sea

The Jumbo Floating Restaurant leaving Hong Kong last week.
PHOTO: South China Morning Post

Hong Kong’s iconic Jumbo Floating Restaurant has capsized in the South China Sea, following its departure last Tuesday for a new home in an unannounced place, its owner has confirmed.

In a statement on Monday, the Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises said: “On Saturday afternoon it was passing Xisha Islands [Paracel Islands] in the South China Sea when the vessel encountered adverse conditions … [water entered the vessel] before it began to tip.

“Despite the efforts of the towing company responsible for the trip to rescue the vessel, unfortunately it capsized on Sunday.”

No crew members were injured.

“The water depth at the scene is over 1,000 metres, making it extremely difficult to carry out salvage works,” it said, adding that it was “very saddened” by the incident and was seeking further information from the towing firm.

A spokesman from Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises told the Post he had no information on whether the salvage operation would continue or the financial loss resulting from the sinking.

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He said the restaurant, which cost HK$32 million (S$5.65 million) when it was constructed in the 1970s, was heading to somewhere in Southeast Asia but refused to disclose the exact location.

The company maintained that “professional marine engineers were hired to thoroughly inspect the hull of the Jumbo Floating Restaurant and install hoardings to the vessel before its departure last week”.

“The trip had obtained all relevant approvals,” the company statement said.

The restaurant has been closed since early 2020, with Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises reporting an accumulated loss in excess of HK$100 million after the Covid-19 outbreak devastated the tourism and catering industries already under strain since the social unrest in 2019.

The company announced last month it would move the boat away from Hong Kong waters because it could not afford the cost of maintaining the vessel to meet government requirements.

It said at the time it had to spend, on average, millions of dollars annually on inspections, repairs and maintenance to meet licensing and other requirements.

Jumbo Floating Restaurant leaving Hong Kong waters last week. PHOTO: Reuters

Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises is a subsidiary of the listed Melco International Development.

There were calls for the government to offer financial assistance to keep the restaurant afloat, at least until a solution over the permanent home for the structure was found, as it was a famous tourist attraction and also a key part of the government’s ambitious plan to invigorate the Southern district.

But Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor earlier this month ruled it out.

“We have clearly indicated that the government has no plans to invest money in the operation of the restaurant as we are not good at running such premises,” she said.

“We won’t force through an unfeasible proposal or one that requires a large amount of public money for implementation simply because it has been raised in the policy address. I find this situation to be of no problem at all.”

Lo Kin-hei, chairman of the opposition Democratic Party, criticised the government for having refused to offer help.

“We pay over HK$95 million alone every year for the salaries of the ministers under the new government line-up,” said Lo, also the former chairman of the Southern district council. “But Lam said the government could not afford to subsidise the restaurant while boasting that it was a Hong Kong icon and even put it in her plan to invigorate the Southern district.”

Lo also urged Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises to release more details of the incident.

“There are already many conspiracy theories. Some people say the restaurant could not have been towed so far away in a week. Some also doubt if the weather around the Xisha area was that bad,” Lo said.

The Post has contacted Lam’s office for comment.

The floating restaurant had attracted celebrities from all over the world during its heyday, including Britain’s Queen Elizabeth and film stars such as Tom Cruise and Chow Yun-fat.

The restaurant also featured in local and overseas films such as James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), Jackie Chan’s The Protector (1985), Stephen Chow Sing-chi’s The God of Cookery (1996), Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion (2011) and Infernal Affairs II (2003).

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.