Department accused of messing up after oil spill

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 June, 2013, 5:25am

Boulders and debris coated in dark, glossy oil were still a blight on the shoreline at a protected bay southeast of Lamma yesterday, a week after fuel leaked from a ship.

Hundreds of bags of blackened sand have already been removed from the beach. But yesterday, signs of the spill remained.

And despite the Marine Department's assurances that it has already completed a successful clean-up operation, there were no swimmers to be seen.

When the Post visited Tung O Wan yesterday, patches of oil were clearly visible on boulders at the far end of the beach. Rubbish had washed up - including foam, plastic, bottles, ropes and tree branches - and was trapped in the rocks, all of it coated in a thick layer of oil.

Men dressed in orange uniforms, believed to be contractors hired by the department, were seen removing debris from the rocky shoreline, but they left shortly before noon.

The oil spill was reported to the Marine Department on June 21. It affected an area of about 1,650 square metres in Tung O Wan, next to Sham Wan, which is a nesting ground for endangered green turtles.

The department believed that the oil was fuel from a ship and about 1,000 litres had spilled. The source of the leak has yet to be identified.

Gary Stokes, from conservation group Sea Shepherd, said that when he visited the site on Wednesday, the oil slick was still clearly visible along the shoreline - yet he had been told by marine officers that the clean-up was complete.

Stokes questioned whether the contractor hired by the department had carried out the clean-up correctly.

"The contract cleaners that I found cleaning the pier were not protecting or even trying to contain the oil, simply blasting it off the pier and back into the ocean where it will wash up onto the beach," he said.

A spokeswoman for the department said last night that rough weather had forced the contractor to halt the clean-up on Sunday until Tuesday. "They couldn't get near the foreshore to check the condition of the rocks until the weather calmed down on Tuesday," she said.

Water jets and absorbent booms - specialist equipment used for soaking up oil spills in water - had been used, and rubbish had been collected and removed, she said.

But the contractor would not clean oil from the boulders and rocks on the beach as it might damage the "ecology" there, she said. "The oil stains will gradually be broken down by the waves and the wind," she said.