Hong Kong has come to a financial settlement with an unidentified party over the cost of the clean-up of a massive spill of plastic pellets in the city's waters during one of the most powerful typhoons to hit in recent years.
The Marine Department last night said the sum was "reasonable, realistic and acceptable", but declined to reveal how much had been paid or who had paid it, citing what it described as "a usual confidentiality clause".
In July 2012, seven containers fell overboard from cargo ship Yong Xin Jie 1 when Severe Typhoon Vicente hit the city. Six were loaded with 150 tonnes of plastic pellets produced by Sinopec's petrochemical refinery in Hainan . They washed up on Hong Kong beaches, and environmentalists said at the time they could harm the marine ecology.
Government departments in cluding those responsible for food and environmental hygiene, leisure and cultural services, agriculture, fisheries and conservation and environmental protection, and the Marine Department, were involved in the clean-up.
"After active negotiations amongst the parties concerned, a settlement agreement was reached for a sum to be paid by the party concerned to the government to compensate [for] the costs it incurred in cleaning up the plastic pellets," a Marine Department spokesman said.
He said that the government hoped to resolve the matter "in an amicable manner", instead of going to court, to save costs and resources. Further details of the agreement could not be disclosed, he said, citing the confidentiality clause.
The spokesman said the agreement was signed by a department representative yesterday.
After the spill, Sinopec said it would take responsibility and set aside HK$10 million to help pay for the clean-up of the pellets.
It said it had bought 40 vacuum machines, 20 generators and 40 walkie-talkies for the purpose.
The then Marine Department chief, Francis Liu Hon-por, said the government would hold the owner of the Xiamen-registered vessel responsible.
Two months later, shipping company China Shipping Container Lines, which leased the vessel, said it had sent 500 staff, vehicles and speedboats to help with the clean-up, and arranged for divers to collect pellets.
Gary Stokes, from Sea Shepherd Hong Kong, which was the first to spot the pellets in local waters, said the agreement was fine if the payment covered the costs.
However, he said the government should release more information about it. "The clean-up could not have been done without the Hong Kong public," he said.