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Typhoon Hato

Oil leak from Hato-hit ship in Hong Kong Discovery Bay sparks concerns

Salvage and clean-up efforts are under way amid fears of further spillage if stranded vessel is rocked by wave surge

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 September, 2017, 9:28pm

Residents of Hong Kong’s Discovery Bay have raised concerns over the fate of a 2,000-tonne cargo vessel off Nim Shue Wan that was grounded three weeks ago but is now partially submerged and leaking oil into the surrounding waters.

On August 23, the small container feeder, which was not loaded at the time, drifted into the area near the Discovery Bay marina at the height of Typhoon Hato. Fierce winds and raging waves forced the vessel into a sea wall, prompting the crew to abandon ship.

The mainland China-owned and Togo-registered M/V Yu Hai 1 vessel has been stranded at the location since, prompting calls from worried residents for the Marine Department and contractor to speed up salvage and cleaning efforts.

Last week, the 70-metre long cargo ship began sinking. A black substance believed to be fuel oil was also seen seeping out of it and into the sea. Photos and videos of the scene have been spreading on Discovery Bay social media groups.

“Only the masts and bridge can be seen now, the rest of it is underwater. My guess is that it will be quite a difficult operation to refloat the vessel,” said Islands District councillor Amy Yung Wing-sheung, who lives in Discovery Bay and represents the constituency.

“It is worrying. There could be another typhoon coming. The danger is if the ship slams into the shore again or into the marina where other boats are berthed. Hopefully, they can speed up the process.”

Contractors from the insurance company involved have put up oil booms to contain the spill and were seen siphoning away the oil from the surface.

But Robert Lockyer, director of the AquaMeridian Conservation and Education Foundation, has been monitoring the incident closely and said the oil had already leaked past the boom.

According to the ship’s official register, there are some 50 tonnes of heavy marine fuel and gas oil carried on the vessel.

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“Due to marine traffic and wakes, the current issue is a wave surge [causing an] overspill of the oil,” Lockyer said. “The heavy grade oil is the big worry. It could affect our marine ecosystem very easily.”

Another Discovery Bay resident, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “We hope it won’t damage the environment any more than Hato already did, with all the rubbish washed up on shores. They need to refloat the vessel and salvage it from the area as soon as possible.”

A spokesman for the Marine Department said the vessel owner had already commissioned a protection and indemnity club to carry out the salvage.

Such clubs are independent mutual insurance associations consisting of shipowners and charterers who pool the risks and costs of third-party liabilities in ship operations.

“Marine Department officials have been monitoring the sunken vessel and have urged the association to salvage it as soon as possible and prevent oil pollution,” the spokesman said.

The department confirmed that a “small amount of oil” had indeed been spilled. It had immediately informed the insurer, which dispatched contractors for the clean-up.