Hong Kong Jumbo: Owners of Jumbo Floating Restaurant return amid declining claims as authorities investigate

Jumbo Kingdom — an 80-meter-long, three-story restaurant designed in the style of a Chinese imperial palace — encountered “adverse conditions” last weekend when it was towed through the South China Sea. “Water soon entered before it started tipping,” its owners first said in a statement Monday.

“The water depth at the crime scene is over 1,000 meters [3,300 feet]making it extremely difficult to carry out salvage operations,” the statement said.

But on Thursday, under pressure from authorities to disclose the circumstances of the bill Wreckage, the ship’s owner, Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises Limited, said in a statement that the ship and accompanying tugboat were still in waters near the Paracel Islands (known as the Xisha Islands in China).

The statement, which was presented to the Hong Kong government, gave no indication if the ship was still afloat or if it had been separated from its tugboat.

The apparent postponement of the news flow follows a request from the Hong Kong Navy Ministry for the restaurant group to provide a written account of the incident as part of an initial investigation.

A spokesman for Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises Limited told CNN on Friday it had always used the term “capsize” to describe the incident and never claimed the ship sank.

When asked if that contradicted previous statements, the spokesman said the company was required to “report the water depth at which (the incident) took place,” and declined to answer if it meant the ship could be salvaged or stayed afloat.

A bird flies over the Chinese imperial-style floating jumbo restaurant as it is towed from a typhoon shelter in Hong Kong June 14, 2022.

Historical icon

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

A major tourist attraction in Hong Kong, the restaurant has served as a backdrop for numerous films, including Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon and James Bond: The Man with the Golden Gun. It has also hosted luminaries such as Queen Elizabeth II, Jimmy Carter and Tom Cruise.

Several proposals were made to save the restaurant, but its high maintenance costs had deterred potential investors, and Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam also ruled out a possible government bailout to save the attraction.

The boat was towed from Hong Kong on June 14 after being moored in the city’s southwestern waters for nearly half a century.

Although the owners initially declined to specify the intended location, it was later announced by the Marine Department that it was to be taken to a shipyard in Cambodia.

News of his demise had been met with dismay online, with many Hong Kong social media users lamenting the inelegant end of one of the city’s best-known historical icons.

Tourism lawmaker Perry Yiu Pak-leung said the Jumbo Kingdom’s demise was a loss for 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 use them wisely [historic] site,” he said. “We’ve stalled for too long.”

Hong Kong's Jumbo Floating Restaurant, an iconic but aging tourist attraction designed like a Chinese imperial palace, is towed out of Aberdeen Harbor on June 14, 2022.

Prompts 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 wrongdoing or human error at sea when towing the Jumbo Kingdom ship,” said Tik Chi-yuen, leader of the Third Side political party.

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

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

The Marine Department said in a statement Wednesday that the ship’s owner had hired an agency to inspect the ship and ensure it was seaworthy before towing it.

It is not clear if the ship was insured, possibly making salvage operations difficult.

Andrew Brooker, chief executive of Hong Kong-based marine insurance firm Latitude Brokers, said it was “incredibly unlikely” that the ship would be insured against loss or damage.

“The marine insurance market doesn’t like it [to carry the risk of] 50-year-old barges are towed across 1,000 kilometers of open sea during typhoon season,” he said.

Brooker added that Jumbo Kingdom’s owners would not have been legally required to insure the ship outside of Hong Kong waters.

CNN’s Maggie Hiufu Wong and Jessie Yeung contributed coverage.