Shipowner could be liable for pellet spill

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:07pm


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The owner of the ship that spilled plastic pellets that washed up on Hong Kong beaches could be held liable, the government said yesterday.

Two of the seven containers that fell overboard are still missing, while about half of the 150 tonnes of pellets have been recovered.

Marine Department director Francis Liu Hon-por said the government had only been able to contact the company that owned the Xiamen-registered vessel two days after Severe Typhoon Vicente struck the city a fortnight ago.

He said it was unclear whether the ship was in Hong Kong waters when the containers fell into the sea.

Sinopec, the name printed on the bags of the plastic pellets, was unlikely to be held responsible.

'If there's an issue involving liability, usually it would be the ship owner who is called upon to address the issue,' Liu said.

Seven government officials met the media yesterday afternoon in a press conference chaired by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor following a meeting attended by various departments and bureaus.

Lam denied that the government had acted too slowly on the matter, and said the Government Flying Service and marine police would help search for the plastic pellets.

Less than half of the 150 tonnes of pellets had been reclaimed, with about 50 tonnes having been cleared from the sea and 21 tonnes from the shore.

Lam stopped short of commenting on whether Sinopec should be held responsible for the spill.

'When we talk about responsibility, we need to be very careful because we can't simply say which company, which ship owner, and which person carries the responsibility,' she said.

'It could be criminal or civil responsibility.'

Liu said the department was following up on where the containers had fallen overboard and would talk to the Department of Justice when more information emerged.

The department first received reports of two containers drifting off Lantau on July 24, the day after Vicente struck. The two containers were subsequently found.

The company contacted the Xiamen company that owned the ship the next day and was told that it had dropped seven containers amid strong winds. Six of them contained plastic pellets and the other one clean glass bottles.

More reports of stranded and drifting containers had been received, but two of them were still missing. The ship company had yet to determine whether the containers had fallen in Hong Kong waters.

Liu said the company was only liable to report to the department if the containers can gone overboard in Hong Kong waters.

Sinopec said yesterday it would take responsibility and was willing to talk to the government about the expense of cleaning up and recovering the pellets.

A company spokeswoman said the pellets, manufactured by Sinopec, were being transported to a buyer when the accident happened.