SINGAPORE: The CEO of a Punggol seafood restaurant that allowed people to catch live crabs using a claw machine has apologised, admitting it caused public concern and vowing to remove the crabs from the machine.
“(The machine) unexpectedly caused some concern from the public,” House of Seafood CEO Francis Ng told reporters at the restaurant in Punggol Point on Friday (Oct 25).
“We fully support the direction of SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and are definitely against animal cruelty. Despite the measures to minimise discomfort to the crab, we note the feedback from the public and will cease the catching of the live animals in the machine completely in all House of Seafood outlets worldwide.”
Mr Ng said his two restaurants in China used to operate live crab claw machines, noting that the intention was to educate people about crabs and that the machine used sponges and rubber-tipped claws to reduce discomfort to the animals.
“As the CEO, I take full responsibility for causing such unhappiness and I’m sincerely sorry for such an oversight,” he added.
His apology comes after the SPCA wrote on Facebook on Wednesday that it had reported the restaurant to the Animal and Veterinary Service, a unit under the National Parks Board (NParks).
SPCA had criticised the machine for causing unnecessary harm to the crabs and encouraging people to see animals as “nothing more than objects to play with”.
The Facebook post was shared thousands of times and drew the ire of commentators, some of whom said live animals should be treated with respect.
But House of Seafood marketing consultant William Soh said the decision to launch the machine was “just a misunderstanding” and that Mr Ng had not given the green light.
“They (restaurant staff) thought that boss had given the final approval ... that’s why they launched it without the final approval by our management team and Mr Francis Ng,” he said.
Mr Ng said he would have first gotten approval from the relevant authorities before launching the machine, but added that he did not know who to approach.
“This is the first time we’re doing it in Singapore,” said Mr Ng. “If it’s in China, I think don’t need approval. But in Singapore, I think need approval. So I needed to consult and I think they were too early in launching it.”
CEO, STAFF BOW IN APOLOGY
During the press conference, Mr Ng and three of his staff bowed for about 30 seconds in apology, with Mr Soh assuring the staff - including the restaurant’s manager and marketing manager - that they would not be fired or have their pay deducted.
“They are very worried after this incident broke out in public and they have been crying since this morning,” Mr Soh said.
“Our CEO will take full responsibility if there is any bigger case, fine or interview by any Government agency.”
Mr Ng said he met NParks officials on Friday morning, cutting short a business trip in China after the saga erupted.
“The details (of the meeting) are confidential,” he said. “They will meet me for a few times. They took a statement from me, I gave them all the facts.”
When CNA asked if he will accept or appeal against any potential penalties, Mr Ng said: “Let’s see. This is still an early stage."
“I’m not sure on that because whatever relevant things I needed to do I’ve already told them. They’ve seen the machine, tried the machine and noted everything,” he added.
“So it’s up to NParks to make the final decision.”
Meanwhile, Mr Soh said some members of the public had urged the restaurant to continue with the live crab claw machine concept, as he pointed to online comments stating that prawning was even more cruel to animals.
Mr Ng added that business at his Punggol restaurant had spiked 20 per cent since the public outcry, with many taking an interest in the machine.
The live crabs will now be replaced by empty boxes. People can still have a go at “catching” these boxes for S$5 a try, and if successful, exchange it in the restaurant for a box of ready-to-eat crab.
When asked if customers would see a return of the live crab claw machine if authorities give their approval, he said: "If I didn’t know it would cause such a big issue, I think it’s a good idea.
“But after this incident, I think no more, because it’s caused such a big hoo-hah. A lot of people say it’s wrong, it’s right. I’m an animal lover also, so I understand how they feel.
“So this impact to me is very great. I will take care of their feelings.”