Mystery over sludge deficit at Tsing Yi

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 01 August, 2011, 12:00am


While unexplained fuel spills increase on Hong Kong's coast an oily mystery of a quite different kind has officials puzzled: a 70 per cent reduction in the amount of marine waste brought to a government centre for treatment.

One possibility is that it has been diverted to the mainland.

Just 9,150 tonnes of such oily sludge - known as Marpol, short for marine pollution - went through the chemical-waste treatment centre on Tsing Yi last year, compared with 29,100 tonnes treated in 2009.

The centre, with a handling capacity of 100,000 tonnes a year, is the only facility designated to handle the waste in Hong Kong. It has equipment to separate waste and oil and an incinerator to burn the residue.

Environmental officials said the handling volume of the centre had no direct relationship with the number of vessels visiting Hong Kong, as captains had discretion about where to unload their waste.

Last year, 32,632 vessels called at the port of Hong Kong, just 525 fewer than in 2009.

Cheung Siu-keung, chairman of the Hong Kong Fishermen Consortium, said fishing boats had long avoided clearing their oily waste in Hong Kong because it was more convenient to do so on the mainland.

'Many fishing boats have operating licences in both places and the mainland has far more space to store these oily wastes where they would be recycled,' he said.

A spokesman for the treatment centre, operated by Ecospace, a subsidiary of Veolia Environmental Services, declined to comment.