Company operating tow of Jumbo Kingdom dismisses “foul play” rumours

A senior official of the company which operated the tugboat escorting the Jumbo Kingdom floating restaurant out of Hong Kong to an unspecified destination has insisted that the capsizing/sinking of the vessel was “an accident without any foul play involved”

Yoon Ju-dong rejected claims that the vessel might have been sunk intentionally. He noted that the towing crew on the Jaewon 9 (IMO 8806228) were all South Koreans. He said that some buoyancy tanks might have been damaged by strong sea waves leading to the ship capsizing in the South China Sea.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post from South Korea on Friday, Yoon Ju-dong said what happened to the floating restaurant was “an accident without any foul play involved”. The Jumbo had been towed out of Hong Kong last week, only to capsize a few days later near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

It was reported to be headed for Cambodia.

“After being towed for four or five days, she started tilting gradually before she capsized suddenly. If she had any structural problems, she would have gone down much earlier,” Yoon said. He also insisted to the newspaper that his company not be identified, only saying that it borrowed the tugboat from its registered owner S&P Marine Co in Busan, South Korea, for the tow.

Jumbo’s owner, Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises, reported the capsizing on Monday.

Yoon said some buoyancy tanks had been broken, probably by sea waves which caused water to enter and the ship eventually to turn over. “The weather was not so ideal but it was not so bad either. The waves were no higher than two metres on the high seas. She has eight buoyancy tanks and I suspect some of them were battered by the sea waves. The boat was [very old] and the steel plate of the tanks might have become thin.”

Yoon noted that “this is a great loss for us as well; we have not yet been paid for the towing costs.” He noted that the boat’s centre of gravity was very high, which caused it to be unstable structurally. “Before the departure, the insurance company conducted a survey of both Jumbo and the tugboat, and gave us the green light for navigation,” he said.

Confusion continued as to whether the Jumbo had sunk or not. Its owner insisted on Thursday night it had capsized rather than sunk, but would provide no further details such as whether it was still above water or if it could be salvaged.

Indeed a strange level of mystery seems to have surrounded the exit of the Jumbo from Hong Kong from the start, with the destination not being stated officially, the towing company not wanting to be named, and now a spokesperson for the owner being unwilling to say more than “it is inaccurate to say that the vessel has sunk.” When asked why the company had said salvage work would be “extremely difficult” because of the depth of the water, the spokeswoman would not answer. Neither would she say where the vessel was.

Another report claimed that the Jaewon 9, built in 1988 encountered problems on December 13th 2021 when a vessel it was taking from Hong Kong to South Korea sank after the towing line connecting the two broke off in Penghu islands in Taiwan due to rough weather, according to global ship database FleetMon.

With “refloating attempts” affected by poor weather, the vessel was eventually “recognised as a total loss” because of the damage sustained, including numerous hull breaches.

1988-built, South Korea-flagged, 498 gt Jaewon 9 is owned and managed by S&P Marine Co Ltd of Busan, South Korea. No AIS since June 14th.