Government’s optimism over palm oil spill ‘ludicrous’ say volunteers cleaning up Hong Kong's beaches

Some of the closed beaches could reopen by the weekend, says environment undersecretary

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 August, 2017, 8:24pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 August, 2017, 4:21pm

Some of the closed beaches on the city’s southern coast could reopen this weekend, the government said, as the deputy minister for the environment suggested the problem with clumps of palm oil washing ashore had “stabilised”.

But residents helping to clean up some of the worst-hit beaches rejected that assessment as “ludicrous”.

Environment undersecretary Tse Chin-wan was still short of answers on Thursday as to how the bags of palm stearin cleaned up from shorelines and local waters would be handled.

“We can observe that there is almost no more palm stearin left in the water, only a small amount is left on Lamma and Hong Kong Island’s southern coasts,” he said during an inspection at Middle Bay Beach.

“The problem of palm oil washing up onto the shorelines has already stabilised. At some beaches, the situations are nearing points of being completely cleaned.”

Tse said some of the beaches could reopen before the weekend.

What we still don’t know about the oil spill

But volunteers and residents who have been involved in round-the-clock clean-ups at affected beaches did not share Tse’s optimism. Lamma Island resident Kim Bacon said the lumps washing ashore were “getting larger every day”.

“For the [government] to say it’s under control is ludicrous,” she said.

Lamma resident and volunteer cleaner Robert Lockyer said: “Hung Shing Yeh Beach [on Lamma] is still an absolute disaster ... it’s worse than it was on Sunday.”

“Hard-to-reach beaches haven’t been sorted at all. Rocks are still covered in oil. [Tse] must be delusional if he thinks the problem is fixed.”

Lockyer said the mess at some beaches was under control but at others it was “one step forward, two steps back” as new waves of palm oil rolled in with the tides, much of it weighed down by marine refuse. “What could have been preventable days ago is no longer the case. We had 70 volunteers turn Tai Wan To clean and pristine, but within an hour, the stuff started rolling in again.” he said.

By Wednesday, 130 tonnes of the white, greasy lumps of crystallised palm oil had been collected around the city. Tests indicated the oil levels in the water at most beaches was low.

The government was seeking advice from the Department of Justice on claiming damages from the owners of two foreign vessels which collided off Daizhi Zhou, in mainland waters, last Thursday, causing 1,000 tonnes of the oil to spill into the sea.

About 200 tonnes of the oil clumps ended up on Hong Kong shores, leading to the closure of 13 public beaches, and questions have been raised as to why it took more than two days for mainland authorities to tell Hong Kong officials about the collision.