Shipyards win point in battle over hammers

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 July, 1995, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 July, 1995, 12:00am

THE Government has offered to drop a noise abatement notice served on one of eight shipyards on North Tsing Yi Island.

Shui Lee Chan Shipyard has received a letter from the Attorney-General's chambers saying the Government is ready to cancel the noise abatement notice if the shipyard does not ask for costs.

Shipyards believe the Government is weakening even though it is intent on pressing ahead with the August 11-15 appeal.

The appeal follows complaints from residents of Ching Tat Court and Cheung On Estate.

The letter follows a noise abatement notice issued by the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) in November banning the shipyard from using metal hammers at any time of the day.

Shipyard representatives said this was impractical and that the alternative rubber hammers were useless.

Dorman Shipyard managing director Tony Chan and representatives of the eight shipyards affected by the noise abatement notice said he did not know why the government sent the letter to only one shipyard.

He suspected it was intended to test the resolve of the yards.

He said Shui Lee Chan management had stood firm. Mr Chan said the shipyards had no choice but to appeal against the noise abatement notice.

'If they do not allow us to use hammers, the shipyards will be closed down and cause economic hardship,' he said.

The notice was served on the yards after a total of 49 complaints over a five-year period from residents of nearby estates.

This led to measurements being taken by the EPD, which found eight shipyards were exceeding the permitted noise levels.

The eight shipyards are Cheong Kee Shipyard, Delon Company, Dorman Shipyard, Kwong Fat Loong Shipyard, Shui Lee Chan Shipyard, Sam Hing Shipyard, Kwong Lee Cheung Brothers Shipyard and Ming Lee Shipyard.

According to Mr Chan, up to 3,000 workers in Hong Kong would lose their jobs if shipyards were forced to close over the use of metal hammers.

Most dockers were 45 years or older and unskilled and were unlikely to find other employment easily.

Associated industries also relied on work from the shipyards and would suffer because jobs were subcontracted to them, he said.

The yards were also fighting the government on a second front.

Besides the noise abatement notice, the government was also demanding that they move to new locations 200 metres away from their present sites.

They argue this would force the closure of the shipyards and have dire consequences for Hong Kong as a port.

The yards blame much of the present problems on administration blunders and lack of planning.

The yards have been in North Tsing Yi Island since the mid-1960s.

They claimed they were repositioned there after the government asked them to move from Cheung Sha Wan.

Originally, these were permanent industrial sites, but a few yards reneged on the mortgage payments of the lots and these were converted to short-term tenancies (STT).

Only about three or four continued paying and remained private lots.

In the late seventies, the government needed new sites for housing and started building flats very close to the shipyards. This was done by the Housing Authority without considering the problems associated with shipyards' noise.

The movement of the population close to the shipyards triggered a series of complaints.

Now the government was demanding that the 14 STT shipyards relocate about 200 metres to the west of the existing sites.

Shipyard owners said this would involve massive investment and would force them out of business. Those that did not go out of business during the move would probably lose business to other yards.

Setting up elsewhere would mean incurring millions more in costs.

The shipyards were confident that they would be able to successfully fight their case because civil engineers had deemed the site recommended by the government unsuitable.

Engineers claim the site would be unable to support the weight of the ships.

Government critics said the administration had not learned from its lack of planning in the past. It proposed making the area an open park for residents.

The government was also planning to build a hospital to the south of the site of the proposed new shipyards.