Island site littered with turbulent history

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 September, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 September, 2006, 12:00am

Once a quiet fishing community, South Soko Island has had a turbulent recent history that may see it turned into Hong Kong's most important energy base.

The island lies almost at the southwestern tip of Hong Kong, not far from popular beaches on South Lantau.

In the 1960s, there was a small cluster of village houses on the island and a typhoon shelter for fishing boats. In the mid 1980s, fish farms operated in its then-pristine waters.

The tranquillity ended in 1989 when the government decided to turn the island into a large detention centre for Vietnamese boatpeople who were flooding into the territory.

Hills were flattened and slopes cut into to build a centre that at one time housed at least 5,000 boatpeople.

The camp made headlines in 1989 when about 1,000 rioting inmates occupied the island for 20 hours in protest against poor living and hygiene conditions.

The riot left one inmate dead and 27 officers injured and led to an upgrade of facilities. The camp was closed in September 1996 and the remaining boatpeople transferred to the Whitehead camp at Ma On Shan. The island has been deserted ever since.

There are few remnants of the camp apart from red Italian floor tiles, a fountain roughly built by inmates and piles of rubbish.

The island was once listed as a potential ecotourism site under a tourism study commissioned by the government, but its inaccessibility has hindered development.

In 2002, the Soko islands were endorsed by the Marine and Country Park Board as a proposed country park to recognise the area's importance as a key fishing ground and vital habitat for the Chinese white dolphin and finless porpoise.

But the proposal was never gazetted and now CLP Power wants to turn the site into liquefied natural gas receiving terminal handling up to 2.6 million tonnes a year.