Oil cleanup nears end; assessing cost begins

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 December, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 16 December, 2004, 12:00am

Owners of the two ships involved won't be able to pay full amount, says official

The cleanup of China's largest oil spill has almost been completed, mainland authorities said yesterday, as they announced that compensation would be sought from the owners of the two ships whose collision last week led to the 1,200-tonne slick.

A Guangdong Maritime Safety Department official in charge of the operation said most of the decontamination vessels had been withdrawn from the site of the slick near the mouth of the Pearl River.

Only about 10 ships were still taking part.

The owners of the two container ships involved in Tuesday's collision should be held responsible for compensation according to international practice, added an official from Guangdong's Oceanography and Fishing Bureau.

However, he said the amount sought would not be announced until an environmental impact assessment was complete. This would take at least two weeks.

One of the ships which collided is registered in Germany and the other in Panama.

A senior Ministry of Communications official said on state television that the owners would not be able to fully cover the costs of the environmental damage and the cleanup.

The cleanup alone has already cost more than 50 million yuan, with the environmental impact bringing the total cost to upwards of 100 million yuan.

Compensation lawsuits may last for months, if not years, the official added.

Hong Kong's Marine Department said yesterday it had been monitoring the situation. A spokesman said it was unlikely that the remnants of the slick would reach Hong Kong waters as the oil was drifting southwest, away from Hong Kong.

The spokesman said the department had made a formal offer of help to mainland authorities three days after the collision.

'We are still waiting for their response,' he said.

However, the Guangdong marine authorities denied they had received such an offer from Hong Kong.

'We have not heard of Hong Kong's offer to get involved in the cleanup,' the Guangdong Maritime Safety Department official said.

Under an oil-spill response plan for the Pearl River estuary agreed by Hong Kong, Macau, Shenzhen, Zhuhai and Guangzhou, each city has a duty to offer help in the event of an oil spill.

Hong Kong is also obliged to offer help under its membership of two international conventions.

The Marine Department spokesman said its oil-spill team had been on standby around the clock since last week, but they needed approval from Guangdong before helping out.

A China Daily report said the slick had been up to 17km long and 200 metres wide.