When tugs hauled Jumbo Floating Restaurant away from Hong Kong last week, the owner of the giant ship sent his “best wishes for a brighter future” to the public.
This future now lies at the bottom of the South China Sea.
The 260-foot three-story restaurant overturned and sank as it was towed through deep water over the weekend, owner Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises said Monday. No one was injured, the statement said.
Jumbo’s loss echoed in Hong Kong, China’s territory, where the neon-built colossus, built in the style of an imperial palace, has been located in the same port for nearly half a century. Generations of Hong Kong people have celebrated weddings and made business deals there for Cantonese dishes such as crispy pork belly and roasted mud crab. For many people in former British colonythe restaurant symbolizes a period of local history more optimistic than the present.
Jumbo’s demise comes at a time of huge cataclysms in Hong Kong, which began when anti-government protests rocked the city for months in 2019. This prompted the Chinese government in 2020 to impose powerful national security law in a territory that has since eroded what is left of its democratic institutions.
The turmoil continued during the pandemic, as border closures and social distancing measures were erased. thousands of shops for mom and dad and threatens some of the world’s most famous businesses, including the popular Star Ferry.
At a time when the Star Ferry and other Hong Kong visual icons are under threat, “it seems as if its most visible symbols are disappearing one by one,” said Louisa Lim, author of the book.Indelible City: Deprivation and Challenge in Hong Kong. ”
“This, combined with the huge political changes introduced by national security legislation, makes Hong Kong people doubt what will be left of their city,” she added.
Jumbo was discovered by Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho in 1976 and has been part of a complex called Jumbo Kingdom for years, which includes a smaller floating Tai Pak restaurant. The opening of the larger ship was delayed by a fire in 1971 that killed 34 people and injured dozens more, according to The South China Morning Post.
A number of celebrities have visited Jumbo Kingdom over the years, including actor Tom Cruise, businessman Richard Branson and Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. Jumbo Floating Restaurant also starred in the 1974 James Bond film The Man with the Golden Gun and several local blockbusters.
In “Infection,” a 2011 thriller about a global pandemic, a key scene is filmed in a restaurant: Gwyneth Paltrow’s character becomes the first victim of the pandemic, contracting a deadly virus from a chef.
Even when giant residential towers sprang up around Jumbo, its glamorous neon sign and imperial-style architecture still dominated the silhouette around Aberdeen Harbor in southwestern Hong Kong Island. And it was still a place where Hong Kongers went to create memories; Miss. Lim, the writer, wrote on Twitter last week going there was an annual ritual for her family.
By 2020, however, Jumbo had lost millions of dollars, and Hong Kong’s pandemic restrictions on food and tourism forced business to close. At the time, Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises said it could not afford to maintain maintenance and inspection costs, and offered to donate Jumbo to a local theme park for free.
Later that year, Hong Kong CEO Kari Lam said the government would work with the theme park and local non-profit organizations to “revive the floating restaurant.” But the plan also failed. Lam said last month that the government would not invest taxpayers’ money in the restaurant, which has accumulated losses of nearly $ 13 million over nearly a decade.
Jumbo was withdrawn from Hong Kong on June 14. Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises declined to say where it was going, although the company had previously said the boat would be moved out of town for maintenance and storage.
In a statement, the company said “Jumbo began tips” on Sunday as it passed the Paracel Islands, a chain of disputed islands in the South China Sea where China, Vietnam and Taiwan have territorial claims. It says the incident took place in an area where the water depth is over 1,000 meters, or 3,280 feet, “which makes it extremely difficult to carry out rescue work.”
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Stephen Ng, a spokesman for Aberdeen Restaurant Enterprises, declined to comment on online speculation that the boat may have been sunk for insurance purposes. There was no immediate evidence to suggest a rough game.
In a statement Monday, the company said it was “now receiving more details about the incident from the towing company”. The name of the towing company is not specified.
Not everyone liked Jumbo. Ho-fung Hung, a professor of sociology at Johns Hopkins University who studied politics in Hong Kong, called it “self-orienting” and said it was not worth feeling nostalgic.
“Expensive bad food for ignorant tourists looking for uncomfortable exotics,” he said wrote on Twitter last week. “Get lost and don’t come back.”
But for some residents, the loss of Jumbo was part of a model in which things they love in their hometown disappeared after protests in 2019. Several social media users described this week’s sinking as a “nail in the coffin” for the city. Others called it a “funeral at sea.”
A popular one illustration social media tours showed Jumbo sinking to the bottom of the sea while the fish swam.
In the illustration of Ah To – the pseudonym of a political cartoonist who recently emigrated from Hong Kong, referring to the “great mental stress” he would suffer if he stayed – there are two statues on the seabed. One shows a blindfolded woman holding a rock of justice lying at an angle. The other is a woman holding a torch and looking like the goddess of democracy, protest symbol which was removed from a university campus in Hong Kong last year.
Austin Ramsey contributed to the reporting.