Yachts in race to save Soko Islands from gas plant

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 April, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 April, 2006, 12:00am

Dozens of yachts and catamarans raced to the Soko Islands off Lantau yesterday, where CLP Power proposes to build a liquefied natural gas terminal, in a rally to keep a pristine weekend spot out of the company's hands.

The race organisers stressed they were not opposed to LNG, a cleaner fuel than the coal firing the CLP Power plant at Castle Peak in Tuen Mun. But they are concerned that if the terminal goes ahead, the secluded islands would be declared off-limits to the public.

'CLP hasn't said it straight out but there is the safety issue,' said Cliff Noffke of the Green Lantau Association. 'If they built it here, they wouldn't want to have people having barbecues on the same island where the gas is stored, or risk al-Qaeda driving a speedboat into one of the tankers.'

Tai A Chau is one of two sites CLP Power is considering; the other is near the company's Black Point gas-fired power station in Tuen Mun.

The island held a detention centre for Vietnamese refugees, and the buildings were knocked down after the camp closed in 1996, although the foundations remain and are now covered in greenery. Hikers have worn paths into the hillsides that offer sweeping views of the surrounding islands. A paved road still bears inscriptions by some of the refugees.

'A lot of people come out here for recreation,' said Richard Winter, of the Living Islands Movement. 'We want to raise awareness of what is happening here and to protect the Soko Islands from being destroyed. It's also a fun weekend.'

There is also concern that nearby dolphin feeding grounds could be disturbed by 40km in pipes that would carry gas to the Black Point station, and the seabed dredging needed to make the waterways safe.

The race pitted catamarans and yachts belonging to the Lantau Boat Club, Discovery Bay Marina and Aberdeen Boat Club. It was won by the yacht Wizard, captained by race organiser Jim Fernie.

The Authority came in second, while third place went to Kolwezi - all from Discovery Bay.

Both sites are the subject of environmental impact studies. The proposed terminal at Tai A Chau would cost US$6 billion and open in 2011.