The dangerous and indispensable job nature of the disciplined services gives them a unique place in society. That is why the public was saddened when three customs officers died while discharging their duties at sea on Tuesday, just days before the Lunar New Year.
We trust the authorities will seriously investigate the incident and review all operational procedures to prevent a recurrence.
Our thoughts go to the victims' families, friends and colleagues who must be going through exceptionally painful moments. The three officers, Ng Wing-man, Lai Chi-hang and Wong Cheuk-bond, lost their lives in what appeared to be a collision during an anti-smuggling patrol near Hong Kong International Airport.
They were later found unconscious in the wheelhouse of the capsized vessel. Another two officers who fell overboard survived.
The circumstances remain unclear at this stage. But the accident was linked to smuggling activities, after an abandoned metal-hulled vessel with more than 1,000 boxes of frozen meat on board was found in the area.
More light will be shed when the case is put before the Coroner's Court later. Meanwhile, a thorough investigation is expected of the police and the Customs and Excise Department.
The fatalities are the most serious in recent years to involve government officers on duty. While the work of customs and excise is less dangerous compared with that of firefighters and the police, all disciplined services face a certain degree of risk at work.
The mishap is a reminder that public safety and law and order cannot be taken for granted. The condolences expressed by the chief executive, the disciplined services, Beijing's liaison office and the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office underlined the importance attached to their contribution to the city's well being.
With cross-border smuggling becoming more rampant, the authorities must ensure that staff morale and enforcement will not be dampened by this incident.
Frontline officers need to be assured that they can continue to discharge their duties without fear for their safety. That should involve a thorough review of operational guidelines and procedures to enhance their confidence.
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