Cross-harbour swim should not be revived until water is much cleaner

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 June, 2011, 12:00am


I refer to the report, 'Harbour swimmers to take plunge in October' (June 2), which the Society for Protection of the Harbour finds worrying. Although there has been improvement of the water quality in the harbour, as long as raw sewage is being discharged into the harbour untreated, the water is still unsafe to swim in.

The article ('Source of killer bug remains a mystery') published on the same day reporting on the E. coli outbreak in Germany which by then had left 16 dead and 1,500 sick should increase the concern. The source of this new superbug infection is still unknown, but E. coli is often associated with human and animal excrement.

Hong Kong has been using the harbour as a huge toilet bowl for decades. This contaminates the water and bottom of the harbour. The tidal flow is relied on to clean the harbour. However, massive reclamation has reduced the effectiveness of this by making the harbour much narrower. This is one of the reasons why our society had objected to further harbour reclamation.

The Protection of the Harbour Ordinance, which was enacted through our society's efforts, requires the harbour to be protected generally and not only against reclamation. This legal protection extends to the quality of the water. The measures taken by the government in recent years to treat the sewage before it is discharged are a step in the right direction, but it will take many years before the harbour can be restored to its former pristine condition and safe to swim in.

The government proposal to reintroduce the cross-harbour swim is premature. Officials should not endanger the health and well-being of the public. The race should not be reintroduced until reliable health experts can reassure the public it will be safe.

Dennis K. W. Li, councillor, Society for Protection of the Harbour