Sailors toast Qingdao's slime loaders

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 16 July, 2008, 12:00am

Relieved officials declared it was safe to go back into the water in Qingdao yesterday after the algal bloom that blighted the Olympic sailing venue was cleaned up.

Olympics sailing chiefs held good to their word to clear by yesterday the thick blanket of bright green slime that had covered the courses and the waters off popular beaches.

'The algae is mainly gone from the sailing courses and we have not had any complaints from the sailors here practising,' Chinese team manager Qi Yue said. 'We are sure that nothing will influence or spoil the Games.'

The unusually large algal bloom, blamed on pollution, had caused havoc for international sailors taking part in final training. Hong Kong's windsurfers have also had difficulty.

Most expressed satisfaction with the emergency clean-up in which thousands of soldiers were deployed on one of their more unusual missions alongside fishermen, tractor drivers, firemen and locals who waded waist-deep to scoop up the pungent seaweed.

Canadian competitor Stephane Locas said the training grounds he used 2 nautical miles offshore appeared almost algae-free.

'The cleanup has been amazing,' said the 27-year-old from Montreal. 'You still get weed on your blades [keel and rudder] but no more than I get on the lake back at home.

'You have to take your hat off to the officials.'

American sailor Carrie Howe said on her team's website on Monday: 'We are happy to report that the algae outbreak seems to have been successfully tackled by the hundreds of dedicated ships, fishing boats and thousands of workers.'

A 32km boom has been slung around 50 sq km of sea encompassing Qingdao's many bays and the multimillion-dollar sailing centre - which has been described by many Olympic challengers and coaches as the best in the world - to halt a future outbreak, local media reported.

'We sent out 1,700 fishing boats to search for algae over the whole sea area in Qingdao, but they only got 10,000 tonnes,' said Wang Haitao, vice-president of the sailing committee for the Games organising committee. 'Compared with days before, that's big progress.'

New sand has been brought by truck from unaffected parts of the Shandong coast to replace that turned black by the algal bloom.

A few afternoon bathers tested the water despite thick fog over the tourist city.

'It smells really bad, but there's hardly any algae in the water,' said primary-school swimmer Chen Nannan, 10. 'But last week you could not go swimming.'

Thirty-seven national teams are training at the Olympic site, but all enjoyed a rest day as police closed the sailing centre for a security sweep.

'Qingdao is not the ideal place for sailing because of the light winds, currents and tides, but I'm happy that we can compete,' Locas said. 'It's a complex course. The very best sailors will win here.'