(CNN) — An iconic floating restaurant in Hong Kong has sunk just days after it was towed to sea en route to an unspecified destination.
The restaurant’s main boat was en route to an unnamed shipyard when it capsized on Saturday after meeting “adverse conditions” near the Paracel Islands (also known as the Xisha Islands) in the South China Sea, it said. Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises Limited in a statement Monday.
The Jumbo Kingdom in Hong Kong, pictured in 2014.
Bruce Yan/South China Morning Post/Getty Images
The boat sank more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), making salvage work “extremely difficult,” the statement said.
It added that Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises was “deeply saddened by this accident”, and was working to gather more details from the towing company. No crew members were injured.
On Tuesday, the Hong Kong government asked the owners for a report on how the ship capsized, public broadcaster RTHK reported, amid calls for a more thorough investigation into the circumstances leading to the sinking.
News of the sinking was met with consternation online, with many social media users in Hong Kong bemoaning the inelegant end of one of Hong Kong’s most recognized historical icons.
Some posted art depicting the restaurant underwater, while others shared farewell messages or fond memories of past visits.
The Hong Kong political party Third Side described the incident as baffling and accused the government and those involved in the restaurant’s management of indirectly capsizing “the collective memory of the Hong Kong people,” RTHK reported.
Others saw the sinking ship as a darkly comic metaphor for Hong Kong’s alleged fortunes as the city – still largely cut off from the rest of the world – clings to pandemic restrictions after several years of political turmoil.
The 260-foot-long (about 80 meters) restaurant was the main boat of Jumbo Kingdom, a dining venue with a capacity of more than 2,000 people, including an older and smaller sister restaurant boat, a fish tank barge, a kitchen boat and eight small ferries to transport visitors from nearby piers.
It also hosted visiting celebrities, including Queen Elizabeth II, Jimmy Carter, and Tom Cruise.
Accessible only by small Jumbo ferries, the restaurant was famed for its opulent Imperial-style façade, lavish neon lights, huge specially commissioned paintings in the stairwell and colorful Chinese-style motifs – including a golden throne in the dining room.
“Looking at the historical context, it was built at a time when this Imperial-style Chinese aesthetic wasn’t even encouraged in China (“Old things” had to be removed during the Cultural Revolution). So Jumbo Kingdom reflected how Chinese in Hong Kong Kong then had a greater desire or passion for these ancient Chinese traditions,” Lai said.
“It (also) reflects Hong Kong’s close relationship and history with the sea.”
But as the fishing population in the island’s southern harbor dwindled, the restaurant group became less popular and has been in short supply since 2013.
The pandemic delivered the final blow, with Jumbo’s owners announcing in March 2020 that they had incurred losses of more than $13 million and that the restaurant would be closed until further notice.
Several proposals had been made to save the historic icon, but high maintenance costs had deterred potential investors, with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam also ruling out a possible government bailout to save the attraction.
Without a “white knight” rescuer the city had been waiting for, the owner decided to move the Jumbo Floating Restaurant, the main boat, to an unnamed shipyard before its operating license expired at the end of June.
Tai Pak, the smaller and older boat from 1952, as well as a recently capsized kitchen boat, are still in harbour.
Maggie Hiufu Wong reported.