Hong Kong’s annual cross-harbour swim race to return to Tsim Sha Tsui after 40 years, as water quality improves

Event route to move back to stretch of water between Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai in Victoria Harbour after government gives green light based on lower E coli readings

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 08 June, 2017, 9:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 09 June, 2017, 12:52am

Hong Kong’s annual cross-harbour swimming race is returning to the heart of the city after 40 years, as better water quality allows it to move back to its original route.

Organisers of the New World Harbour Race 2017 said cleaner water in the key stretch of the harbour between Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon and Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island had made the switch possible.

David Chiu Chin-hung, chairman of the organising committee, said they had decided to go back to the old route after obtaining government approval.

“The latest figure we got from the government showed the E coli level was about 200-plus in the water in Victoria Harbour, which was only around one third of the 600-plus reading recommended by the Environmental Protection Department as good for swimming,” he said.

“That means the water is very clean.”

The bacteria Escherichia coli are found in the environment, foods and intestines of people and animals and can cause diarrhoea and urinary tract infections.

First held in 1906, the swimming race is one of the city’s most celebrated sports events. It originally covered a 1.6km route between Tsim Sha Tsui and the former Queen’s Pier in Central. However, the race took a 33-year break from 1978 to 2010 due to fears over rising pollution levels in the water amid the city’s rapid development.

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

Since resuming in 2011, the race route has run between Lei Yue Mun in east Kowloon and Sai Wan Ho on Hong Kong island, a distance of 1.5km.

Hong Kong swimming athlete Yvette Kong Man-yi said she would join the race.

“I was not even born 40 years ago, so I do feel quite excited to experience swimming the new route,” she said.

The race, set for October 29, will see the same number of lifeguards and boats deployed as last year, according to Chiu.

“The participants will have a higher ratio of safety guards, as we have a shorter route this year,” he said.

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A man and a woman drowned in last year’s race, leading to heavy criticism of the organiser, the Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association.

Chiu urged participants to pay attention to their capabilities, and reminded those above the age of 60 to seek a doctor’s advice before joining the event.

“If during the race you feel you might not be able to keep going, don’t be shy, just raise your hand and shout for help,” he said. “Life is always more important.”

About 3,000 people are expected to take part in two groups – one for leisure and another for racing – that have a quota of 2,400 and 600 respectively. The race will be open for registration on Friday.