The Hong Kong Marine Police is a sea-going service in a place that lives by the sea; and the sea's moods can be more capricious than any power-hungry warlord or pirate. The great killer storms, known in the China Seas as `typhoons' (from the Chinese Da-Fung) and elsewhere as `hurricanes', `cyclones' and a host of local names, regularly afflict the territory. Their reality should not be underestimated or misunderstood. In his book `From Time Ball to Atomic Clock' Anthony Dyson points out:
In the pre-war years, without the satellites and equipment that modern meteorologists have at their disposal, they usually struck with little or no warning and their effects were sometimes terrible indeed. A typhoon in 1874 killed between four and five thousand people for example, and that of 1906 sank 2,413 Chinese craft and 141 European while killing over 10,000 people. The worst in Hong Kong's recorded history was the `Great Typhoon' of 2nd September 1937, which sank thousands of junks and cargo boats (including 28 ocean-going ships) and killed upwards of 11,000 people.
In more recent times meteorologists have been able to give earlier and more accurate warnings. Typhoon Wanda, which hit the territory in August 1962, was actually worse than the 1937 typhoon in that it lasted longer and generated stronger winds (140 knot gusts as against 130 knots, with maximum hourly average wind-speeds of 68 knots against 59). It also produced much the same effects (tidal surges sweeping down Tolo Channel and inundating Shatin, Tai Po and Sha Tau Kok). But the final figures - though still horrendous - bore no comparison: 138 dead, 34 missing, 130 injured and 72,000 homeless, with 484 fishing vessels sunk and 509 damaged. Typhoons are a fact of life in Hong Kong, and marine policemen have had much to do with them over the years. Of course they are not confined to the 1948-1962 period alone, and in this chapter we will look at how typhoons have affected the Marine Police in general since the Second World War. But first, without getting too bogged down in meteorological detail, let us look at what exactly a typhoon is.