A translation mix-up led to a 12-hour delay in identifying the toxic chemical floating at sea when a container ship sank off Tuen Mun. The Marine Department was attacked yesterday for the hold-up in getting a translated cargo list, which meant beaches were not closed until several hours after the containers had gone overboard off Butterfly Bay. The container ship Guan Hang, used by the Fuk Man shipping line to carry cargo from Guangdong through Hong Kong, sank early on Tuesday, losing nine of its 17 containers, including one full of ammonium chloride. Tuen Mun District Board members meeting yesterday to discuss the incident said swimmers' lives could have been at risk. 'It was lucky that the chemicals are not too toxic,' Cheung Yuet-lan told Marine Department officials. 'What about if it were cyanide? Many people might have been killed if you had taken so long to inform the Regional Services Department to close the beaches.' The ship's manifest, which listed the cargo in Chinese, were obtained at midday, but because of translation difficulties, it was not clear exactly what the chemical was, Harbour Patrol officer Lai Chi-tong said. A translation of the manifest had to be sought, and that had caused the delay. Mr Lai said there had been doubt about whether the substance was ammonium chloride or ammonium chlorite, which is more dangerous. 'We had to make it very sure, but it turned out to be not listed as on the International Maritime Dangerous Goods list,' Mr Lai said. 'Because there is a big difference between 'ite' and 'ide', we had to check with the shipping agent,' he said. District board member Dr Tang Siu-tong said the shipping agent should have been able to tell the Government what was on board the ship. 'One phone call could sort out the problem,' he said. Ms Cheung called for new regulations to ensure all chemicals entering Hong Kong waters were declared, not just those listed as being dangerous. Five beaches in the western Kowloon area remained closed yesterday as officers checked the ammonium chloride container for leaks. The ship's captain has given a statement about the sinking, which occurred at anchor while awaiting immigration procedures, but the cause of the accident was still unknown yesterday. 'Obviously we are looking at whether the ship's construction was sound - I suspect there must have been something like a leak,' said Port Control assistant director Lee Ka-mo. 'We are still investigating if there has been a breach of any law.'