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Hong Kong police

Hong Kong bomb disposal squad to get four Mercedes armoured trucks in upgrade, as outgoing chief salutes handling of Wan Chai incident

Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau chief Tony Chow says more awareness needed over potential dangers of unexploded wartime bombs in city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 September, 2018, 6:02pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 September, 2018, 11:12pm

Four police armoured trucks for bomb disposal in Hong Kong will be replaced by the end of the year as part of efforts to step up gear for the squad, with newer and bigger vehicles set to pack more speed, the Post has learned.

Apart from the equipment upgrade, Tony Chow Shek-kin, the outgoing chief of the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau, said he hoped to raise awareness of the potential dangers of buried wartime bombs.

Earlier this year, three unexploded bombs from the second world war were uncovered in separate cases. The 450kg shells were found buried at the same construction site in Wan Chai, with officers taking several hours to evacuate the area each time as they worked to defuse the bombs.

Police rely on experience to deal with third unexploded bomb at Wan Chai site

In all, bomb squads took more than 70 hours to restore safety. Chow described the three missions as the most difficult ordeals of his 23-year service with the squad, as the stakes were high with his officers’ lives at risk and damage estimated at more than HK$12 billion should the bombs go off.

In an interview with the Post, the 54-year-old senior superintendent said the existing four Land Rover Defenders were up to 12 years old and had to be replaced. The new Mercedes-Benz models, costing HK$1.1 million each and ordered in 2017, will arrive around December.

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“The current trucks are ageing and can only go up to 110km/h. The new ones are much bigger in size and more powerful. They can go up to 140km/h and are equipped with updated features,” Chow said. “We need to update our equipment from time to time.”

People tend to think the bombs were 70 years old, so were safe. But the truth is, they were not
Tony Chow, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau chief

The heavy-duty trucks, officially known as Super Vehicular Plants, transport manpower and equipment for the squad and also protect team members on the periphery of a reasonably large bomb. Each truck is parked at a distance of about 80 metres from the explosive.

The trucks also carry half a dozen white loading compartments, each packing different tools to tackle various explosives. Half of the units will be replaced in December.

Earlier this year, the 41-member squad also acquired a more advanced explosive detector which would help officers immediately identify substances used in bombs.

“If we suspect a venue is being used to make bombs, we need to examine the substance collected at the scene. Even if they are not explosive, the new detector can tell what they really are.”

Joining the squad’s new collection was a bomb disposal robot and an upgraded high-definition portable X-ray machine, which allows officer to detect concealed explosives. The new equipment arrived in March and April, and the robot was showcased at the large anti-terrorism drill at the West Kowloon terminus of the high-speed rail link to mainland China in July.

Meet the heroes behind the 50-hour wartime bomb disposal operations

On the three missions at the Wan Chai site of the Sha Tin-Central MTR rail link, Chow said the most unnerving part was thinking about the potential consequences if any of the explosives had detonated.

Three AN-M65 second world war bombs were unearthed in January and May, and hundreds of residents and businesses were evacuated.

Chow added that any explosion would mean structural damage to surrounding high rises, and fragments from shattered glass windows could be projected as far as 1km – the rough distance between the site and the government headquarters in Admiralty.

“If the bombs went off or if we did not do it properly, what would we say to Hong Kong people? Three [450kg] aircraft bombs in the middle of the city centre – probably the biggest ever danger bombs could pose.

“People tend to think the bombs were 70 years old, so were safe. But the truth is, they were not. I do understand that they were reluctant to leave homes and hotels, but they need to understand it was for safety.”

Chow said he was proud of his colleagues and hailed them as one of the best bomb disposal squads in the world. The team received a commendation from the police chief earlier this month for their outstanding performance in two of the missions in January.