All 14 beaches in the New Territories districts of Tuen Mun and Tsuen Wan may have been officially closed due to a sewage leak - but some hardy locals yesterday ignored warnings and continued with their morning swims.
The beaches were closed late on Monday night after a malfunction at Tuen Mun's Pillar Point sewage treatment works at about 3pm that day.
A total of 95,000 cubic metres of sewage had to be discharged into the sea about 700 metres offshore via an emergency pipe after the malfunction, the Drainage Services Department said. It said the waste was partially treated and mostly domestic.
Repairs to the faulty devices were completed at 2.30am yesterday and sewage treatment resumed, the department said. However, it is not known when the beaches will reopen.
The last time beaches in Hong Kong were closed due to a sewage leak was in 1997.
Yesterday at Tsuen Wan's Lido Beach, a dozen people strode past warning notices to take an early morning dip.
"Yesterday it was quite dirty. Now it is quite clean here, not much rubbish," one woman told Cable TV after her swim.
A swimmer at Butterfly Beach said he could smell something strange in the water. "It smells like the smelly powder used to clean toilets," he said. "It is not strong, but usually it doesn't smell like this."
Lifeguards paddled out in canoes in a bid to convince swimmers to head back to the beach.
All 14 closed beaches are along Castle Peak Road, which runs from Tuen Mun to Tsuen Wan.
Officers from the Environmental Protection Department yesterday took water samples from the beaches for testing. A department spokeswoman said results would be available today at the earliest.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department said the beaches would be reopened when the results of the samples showed water quality was at an acceptable level.
Located at the southwest tip of Tuen Mun, the Pillar Point plant treats domestic sewage from 920,000 people in the New Territories. It treats up to 241,000 cubic metres of waste per day.
Eight beaches were forced to close in the summer of 1997 due to contamination by sewage, with one incident also involving the Tuen Mun plant.