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Chapter 4.7
Hong Kong’s own hydrographic work
Contributor: Tam Kwong-lim

One of the earliest surveys performed by the local authorities, and not attributable to the Royal Navy, was of Hong Kong Harbour’s moorings and buoys in 1894. It was undertaken by Hong Kong’s Harbour Master for the accurate positioning of anchorages for local craft as well as for oceangoing vessels. Similar work was also executed by the Colonial Harbour Department on “Positions of Merchant Shipping Buoys” in 1900.[35]

The other Government Department that performed survey work was the Public Works Department, which produced survey data on “Victoria” in 1897, and then in 1901 data on “Hong Kong Harbour, Kowloon (side)” and “Hong Kong Harbour – Victoria (side)”.

Both of these examples indicate that two Government Departments were involved in hydrographic surveys in order to facilitate the needs of local shipping.[36]

This tradition was continued after the Second World War when Hong Kong underwent a period of rapid development, its port turning into a major shipping hub of East Asia. Details of the myriad work, involving both the government and private sector, were described in the previous section.

However, the development of the port of Hong Kong was a continuous process. As the function of the port rose from one handling mainly local river traffic to one closely linked with international trade, as general cargo became gradually containerised, the port’s infrastructure required modernisation to cope with the changes. As such, a great deal of hydrographic survey data was required for planning and for land reclamation. The problem became acute following the departure of HMS Hydra, the last British survey ship based in Asia, in 1972 Hydra was finally sold to the Indonesian navy in 1986 after taking up assignments in South Pacific, the Persian Gulf and the British Isles. Henceforward, the British Admiralty no longer carried out surveys in Hong Kong waters, so nautical charts of Hong Kong could only be updated relying on information from Civil Engineering Department (Port Works)’s surveys.

In September 1987, a Hydrographic Unit was established in the Marine Department to advise the Civil Engineering Department (CED) on survey requirements for navigational purposes and for liaising with the Hydrographic Office in the United Kingdom on updating charts on Hong Kong.


  • [35]
    ‘Comprehensive List of Survey Material available for Hong Kong Waters held at UK Hydrographic Office’, Collection of Marine Department, HKSAR, p.4.
  • [36]
    Ibid, pp.4-5.
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