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Environment

Fourth suspicious fire breaks out at Hong Kong wetland conservation area Nam Sang Wai

Blaze reported at ferry pier following three suspected arson cases since March

PUBLISHED : Monday, 02 April, 2018, 11:43am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 April, 2018, 7:04pm

Another case of suspected arson took place in a popular Hong Kong wetland conservation area on Monday morning, the fourth such fire in the area in weeks.

The Nam Sang Wai wetland in Yuen Long has been at the centre of a long-lasting land dispute between its private owner, environmentalists and town planners over whether the area should be developed or conserved. 

Police said they received a report at about 6.30am regarding a fire at a wooden boat mooring at the Nam Sang Wai ferry pier on the outskirts of the area. The ferry’s owner made the report.

No one was injured in the fire.

Photos of the incident posted online showed that the boat and almost half of the wooden pier were damaged by the flames, with the charred aftermath visible on the swampy shore of the Shan Pui River. Firefighters quickly put out the blaze, which they suspected to have been deliberately caused. The case is being handled by the Yuen Long division crime squad.

The ferry operates from 6am to 11pm daily, linking Nam Sang Wai to the rest of Yuen Long. There is another pier nearby, so service is unlikely to be affected.

Nam Sang Wai, near the protected wetland areas of Mai Po and Deep Bay Ramsar, is home to the second-largest reed bed in Hong Kong and is an important stopover site for migratory birds.

Bush fire doused in Nam Sang Wai as firefighters investigate third wetland blaze in 10 days

About 80 per cent of the land is privately owned, the bulk of it by Nam Sang Wai Development, which is jointly controlled by Henderson Land Development and the Fu family, led by Adrian Fu Hau-chak, chief executive of KHI Holdings. The other 20 per cent belongs to the government.

A Nam Sang Wai Development spokeswoman said the affected site did not belong to the company. A Lands Department spokeswoman said the department was still collecting more information about the case.

This is a great warning sign because fires keep happening here
Roy Kwong, lawmaker

Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu, who is also a Yuen Long district councillor, visited the site after the fire. 

“This is a great warning sign because fires keep happening here,” he said. “The government has not provided any comprehensive conservation plan for Nam Sang Wai.”

Kwong urged police to hasten its investigation to prevent “strange fires” from breaking out again. 

Peter Li Siu-man of environmental group the Conservancy Association said the location of the fire was not included in any development plans and he believed lighting a fire there would not benefit anybody.

Li said he suspected the fire could be related to a personal matter. 

In the middle of last month, two back-to-back hill fires broke out in the area, scorching about 14 hectares of reed beds, abandoned fish ponds and trees. No people or animals were hurt. A separate bush fire took place nearby several days later.

Private developers in Hong Kong have long been accused of damaging ecologically important sites they own to make it easier for their development plans to be approved by town planning authorities. However, proving such claims has been difficult.

Similar fires broke out in the area’s reed beds in 2010 and 2016, just months after an application to the Town Planning Board by developers to build more than 2,500 flats and houses was rejected on environmental grounds.

The cycle of applications, rejections and appeals dates back to 1996, when the developers proposed a 43-hectare golf course on the site and 2,550 homes scattered over the course in well-spaced clusters, according to the board’s court documents. Their final appeal was rejected in February last year, requiring them to file a fresh planning application.

Environmental groups have called on the government to strengthen its regulations to better protect conservation areas.

A spokeswoman for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said its officers had visited the site and surrounding area after the fire and did not find any damage to the wetland and its ecosystem. It would keep monitoring the situation.

An Environmental Protection Department spokesman said Deep Bay Wetland outside Ramsar Site, including Nam Sang Wai, was one of seven ecologically important sites under an enhanced policy to encourage landowners, NGOs and the private sector to participate in conservation works.

“We will review the implementation and effectiveness of relevant policies and measures from time to time and ... review again where necessary,” he said.