HONG KONG/BEIJING – A 190-meter-long cargo ship sank off Hong Kong on Wednesday in a strong typhoon that whipped up towering waves and forced much of the city to shut down, before killing one person and leaving five others missing as it churned through southern China on Thursday, authorities said.
Packing winds of up to 150 kph at its center, Typhoon Utor made landfall in mainland China at 3:50 p.m. in the southern city of Yangjiang, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
More than 158,000 people had been relocated in southern China ahead of its arrival, Xinhua said.
The 21 crew members of the bulk carrier Trans Summer abandoned ship as the vessel tipped onto its side and sank 80 km southwest of Hong Kong, triggering a rescue by two helicopter teams and a passing ship.
“The waves were 10 to 15 meters high. The wind was 90 kph. . . . The ship was leaning to the left side by about 20 to 30 degrees and started to sink when it tilted almost 90 degrees,” Samuel Yip of the city’s Flying Service said.
Alan Loynd, managing director of Branscombe Marine Consultants, said such ships were designed to withstand extreme weather so something must have gone wrong: “If there’s an engine breakdown, then the ship can get turned broadside onto the weather. Then the cargo could shift, forcing the ship over.
“Once the ship loses control in those sort of severe weather conditions it can quickly turn into a disaster.”
A government spokeswoman said the Marine Department and China’s Guangdong Maritime Safety Administration would hold a joint investigation into the sinking.
As Typhoon Utor headed for mainland China, it barreled past Hong Kong, where it forced the closure of financial markets, schools and businesses and disrupted almost half of the day’s flights. Some 118 flights had to be canceled and another 320 were delayed.
A government spokesman said six people were treated in public hospitals for storm-related injuries and that there were six cases of minor flooding. Hong Kong’s streets were quiet for much of the day, with many workers staying home as businesses and schools were shuttered
As the storm passed, more people began venturing out, umbrellas hoisted, and the city returned to normal. However, the Hong Kong stock exchange had already canceled Wednesday’s session and schools remained shut for the afternoon.
By Thursday morning, the storm had weakened considerably, with winds at its center falling to 85 kph as it headed northwest through Guangxi province, about 350 km west of Hong Kong.