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Hong Kong environmental issues

Greenpeace members arrested after protest shuts down Hong Kong observation wheel for day

Climbers attempted to hang large banner on attraction to raise awareness about plastic waste

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 21 December, 2017, 11:15am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 December, 2017, 5:58pm

A Greenpeace protest ended in a fiasco on Thursday as 19 members involved in a plot to storm the 60-metre-high observation wheel at the Central waterfront were arrested by police.

The recently reopened attraction was forced to cease operations for the day, prompting disappointed visitors to criticise the green group for being “selfish”.

Eleven women and eight men were arrested. Five were at the site taking part in the event, according to police. They were arrested for causing a nuisance in a public place.

Superintendent Chan Hin-kwan of Central Police Station said the activists were on the wheel for more than six hours. They climbed down soon before 1.30pm.

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Chan said the force condemned the activists’ act for endangering their own safety as well as that of bystanders and for causing disorder in a public place. Some metal objects fell to the ground while they were climbing the wheel, police said.

Detectives from the Hong Kong Island Regional Crime Unit are handling the case.

Greenpeace campaigner Andy Chu Kong said the original plan was to hang a banner on the wheel in the early morning as a protest against uncontrolled plastic waste pollution and to remove it by 11am, when the wheel was open to the public.

“But there was a sudden wind, which damaged the large banner. That was unexpected. We needed to consider the safety of our [climbers],” Chu said.

“We would like to apologise to all affected citizens and visitors. But we hope Hongkongers, businesses and the government can understand that the problem of plastic pollution cannot be left unrestrained any more,” he added.

On Thursday morning, Chu told the Post that the group had considered the legal risks before their protest and would be responsible for what they did.

Twelve Greenpeace members in orange suits and safety helmets were spotted climbing the wheel on Thursday early morning. A man alerted the police at 7.15am. More than 40 firefighters, including those from the high angle rescue team, paramedics and police officers were sent with an air cushion to handle the situation described as “persons in dangerous position” in the incident report.

A Greenpeace spokesman said the climbers were trying to hang a banner 12 metres high and 30 metres wide on the wheel. On the banner were four large Chinese characters saying “Plastic-free Now”.

The action was designed to raise public awareness on plastic use “in a most straightforward way, on a landmark of the city and during the morning traffic peak when people are on their way to work,” Chu said.

The observation wheel would not open at all on Thursday due to the action of Greenpeace, chief operating officer Robyn Joseph said. The operator previously anticipated that the wheel might be able to resume services at 6pm and visitors holding tickets could take their rides until 11pm, the normal closing time for the attraction.

“Representatives from the Fire Services Department and our technical staff are still in the wheel cutting free the banner, and ropes that Greenpeace’s protesters were incapable of removing,” Joseph said on Thursday evening.

A full assessment of the wheel, which could take a few hours, would be carried out after the banner was removed, she added.

Disappointed visitors criticised the activists for being “selfish”.

“Originally I supported them, but now I oppose them … Greenpeace can protest below [the observation wheel],” said Jacqueline Yan, who has lived in Norway for more than 30 years and recently returned to Hong Kong for a month-long holiday. She arrived at 11am and planned to take the wheel with her husband, but left disappointed after waiting for more than two hours.

“They can freely express their opinion to the government but should not affect others,” Yan said.

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Lo Pak-kai, who had come from Sheung Shui to Central to ride the wheel with his wife on their day off, was also very disappointed.

“I think the protesters are very selfish,” Lo said. He had chosen to take the ride on Thursday as ticket prices were reduced when the wheel reopened on Wednesday after a dispute between the former and current operators. The fare was cut from HK$100 to HK$20 per person.

Visitors holding Thursday’s tickets can take their rides after 6pm or ask to have them rescheduled to a time on or before March 31, 2018 by emailing the wheel’s administration team, according to a statement on the attraction’s official website.

The Entertainment Corporation Limited, operator of the wheel, said its team had been in direct contact with customers who intended to ride the wheel on Thursday to ensure that their tickets would remain valid.