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New virus restrictions threaten Hong Kong's last true junk boat

Celia CAZALE
·2-min read

The red sails of the "Dukling" junk boat have glided across Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour for more than six decades.

But the wooden ship has been docked after new measures to stem a fourth wave of the coronavirus were introduced earlier this month, threatening the city's last remaining antique junk.

Strict social distancing rules were brought back after daily cases repeatedly spiked to more than 100, their highest levels since July.

Authorities also vowed to ramp up policing of gatherings at private properties and on boats, setting up a dedicated hotline for the public to report any breaches.

"In the near future, it is very difficult for us to stay alive," Charlotte Li, Dukling Limited's director of business development, told AFP.

The boat requires at least four workers to operate on the water but two resigned during the pandemic over slashed wages, leaving the Dukling short on numbers.

"We have to follow and obey the law. But how can we maintain the staff and their families?" Li said.

Li said she felt authorities showed a "lack of caring" for small private companies after excluding attractions like the Dukling boat from public coronavirus subsidies handed out to travel agencies, tour guides and big parks.

Ocean Park, an ageing theme park that was making losses even before the pandemic struck, has received billions from a government bailout.

"I know the government can't help everyone, but in the tourism industry they need to think more globally," she said.

Junks date back to the Han Dynasty (221–206 BC) and were traditionally used for fishing and transport.

Built in 1955 in neighbouring Macau, the Dukling is the only authentic junk left -- the other remaining vessels are modern replicas.

It was owned for 20 years by a Hong Kong fisherman who lived onboard with his family before it became a tourist attraction.

Before the latest restrictions were enforced, the Dukling managed to stay afloat by switching to local tourists and schoolchildren.

They readjusted routes and switched English commentary to Cantonese.

"The locals are hearing more about us this year because with no tourists, we have more time and money to spend on promotion in Hong Kong itself," Li said before the new restrictions came on.

Now that source of income has dried up.

Li is calling for authorities to preserve the Dukling whatever happens during the rest of the pandemic.

The boat's mission is not merely to serve as a tourist attraction, she said, but to preserve Hong Kong's fishing heritage and the city's history.

"It's an old boat full of history and stories," Li said.

"It's a moving museum, a fishing museum."

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