The red sails of the Dukling junk 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 COVID-19 were introduced earlier this month, threatening the territory’s last remaining antique junk.
Strict social distancing regulations 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,”Dukling Ltd director of business development Charlotte Li said.
The junk requires at least four crew to operate, but two resigned after the pandemic emerged 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 asked.
Li said she felt authorities showed a “lack of caring” for small private companies after excluding attractions like the Dukling from public subsidies handed out to travel agencies, tour guides and amusement parks.
Ocean Park, an aging theme park that was making losses even before the pandemic struck, has received billions of Hong Kong dollars from a government bailout.
“I know the government can’t help everyone, but in the tourism industry they need to think more globally,” Li said.
Junks date back to the Han Dynasty (221 BC to 206 BC) and were traditionally used for fishing and transport.
Built in 1955 in neighboring Macau, the Dukling is the only remaining authentic junk — the other remaining vessels are modern replicas.
It was owned for 20 years by a Hong Kong fisher 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.
It readjusted its 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 regulations were implemented.
Now that source of income has dried up and Li is urging the authorities to preserve the Dukling, whatever happens during the rest of the pandemic.
The junk’s mission is not merely to serve as a tourist attraction, but to preserve Hong Kong’s fishing heritage and the territory’s history, she said.
“It’s an old boat full of history and stories,” Li said. “It’s a moving museum, a fishing museum.”
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