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A conversation with Jon Zinke, US Admiralty lawyer, Hong Kong
Q: How many US Admiralty Lawyers are there in Hong Kong?A: The same number as there are in all of Asia.
By George Lauriat, Editor in Chief, AJOT
Jon Zinke is among the rarest of species. He is the only US Admiralty lawyer in Hong Kong. “I’m not only the only US Admiralty lawyer in Hong Kong, but the only one in Asia,” Zinke told the AJOT.
Finding the only US Admiralty lawyer in the region didn’t happen entirely by coincidence. An old friend, Fred Armentrout has been heading up the Hong Kong American Chamber of Commerce publications division for over twenty years. He was talking about AMCHAM chairman and long-time resident Jon Zinke. Fred gave me Zinke’s e-mail address but there was no immediate reply to a request for an interview. A few a days later, Zinke wrote that he had been in Bangladesh on a job and was out of contact with his e-mail. He suggested I stop by his office.
Zinke’s office address, 287 Queen’s Road Central, suggests a location in Hong Kong’s main business district. However, it is in an area (on the way to the Western District) where small shops and their kiosks containing jewelry, jade, coins and special foods are more common than the mega-sized financial institutions, hotels and shopping plazas at the other end of Queen’s Road. In many respects, the district is the real life-blood of Hong Kong.
Zinke’s office contained all the nautical earmarks appropriate for an Admiralty law office. On the walls were scenes from Hong Kong’s maritime past. What was really interesting, however, was a five-foot ship model berthed in Zinke’s modest sized office. “It was a Chinese ship sailing under the Somali, flag,” Zinke said of his office co-habitant. “They were all re-flagged later as there was a disadvantage to being Somali flagged,” he explained. (By co-incidence, the story of the ships re-flagging to Panama had been written by the interviewer for the Far Eastern Economic Review).
On the walls were pictures of various distressed ships. There was a picture of containers improperly stowed that had shifted and crushed others in the hole. There were ships that were stranded or otherwise in peril. There were also a number of pictures of a sloop. “That is one of the reasons I love living in Hong Kong,” Zinke said pointing to the sloop. “I can sail, or at least putter around on my boat, year-round. I keep a log-book, and last year I was aboard 60 days’not all that time sailing, but aboard.
“I was in Bangladesh at the ship scrapping area working on a case,” he said showing some pictures of pieces of recently broken ships in the mud. “They are amazing. The work is so dangerous and they have no gloves or hard hats to protect them and the pay is maybe a dollar a day. The real skill is the men with the cutting torches. They cut the ships in a manner that allows entire sections to fall into the mud for final disposal,” Zinke related.
“I came out to stay for two years,” Zinke said while explaining how he came to Hong Kong. “And that was over twenty years ago.” Zinke was originally a deck officer. He is a graduate of State University of New York Maritime College. He holds an unlimited Oceangoing United States Coast Guard Chief Mate’s License and sailed Alaska for Exxon among, other Jones Act companies.
In the late 1970s he came ashore and went to Brooklyn Law School and studied admiralty law. Shortly after graduation, Zinke began practicing maritime law with a New York firm. The firm did a lot of work on a case for Fairmont Shipping, a well known Hong Kong shipowner. At the urging of the principals of Fairmont Shipping, the firm decided to establish a Hong Kong office. A partner was sent out to set the firm up and Zinke began coming to Hong Kong on trips in 1982. The idea was that Zinke would, in a couple of years, take over the Hong Kong office.
Establishing an office in Hong Kong wasn’t entirely without incident, however. In 1983, typhoon Ellen, wit
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