Hong Kong cleans beaches af­ter mas­sive palm oil spill

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

A clean-up op­er­a­tion was un­der way in Hong Kong yes­ter­day af­ter a mas­sive palm oil spillage from a ship col­li­sion in main­land Chi­nese wa­ters clogged some of its most pop­u­lar beaches. The coast was coated with ran­cid-smelling sticky white clumps of the oil as it washed in Sun­day, with 11 beaches still closed to swim­mers Mon­day at the height of a sum­mer heat­wave. There are still lumps of the so­lid­i­fied oil on the beaches and the sea wa­ter in some ar­eas is greasy.

Hong Kong com­prises more than 200 is­lands with glit­ter­ing bays, but there are in­creas­ing con­cerns about pol­lu­tion and rub­bish blight­ing its shores. On Pui O beach, on the is­land of Lan­tau, clean­ers raked through the fa­mous black sand Mon­day morn­ing re­triev­ing lumps of palm oil mixed with other trash, from plas­tic wa­ter bot­tles to chil­dren’s toys.

Although there is still a red flag up and the beach is of­fi­cially closed, some peo­ple ven­tured into the wa­ter. One 61-year-old surfer, who gave his name as Si­mon and is a reg­u­lar at the beach, said there was still oil in the sea. “It got un­der my feet and on my board. It’s all slip­pery,” he told AFP. “Yes­ter­day there was big chunks along the beach and in the wa­ter.” He added that there was of­ten rub­bish on the beach, of­ten left by vis­i­tors.

“I live here now, I have to put up with it. I don’t like it,” said Si­mon, who is an air­port worker orig­i­nally from Hawaii. Beach an­nounce­ments told de­ter­mined swim­mers at the closed beaches to get out of the wa­ter Mon­day. But Agnes Mer­cado, 49, a reg­u­lar at se­cluded South Bay on Hong Kong Is­land, was de­ter­mined to take her morn­ing dip, although she said she would not sub­merge her up­per body. “Of course I’m wor­ried about it, but it’s even worse than this on some days,” she said of the pol­lu­tion.

The Leisure and Cul­tural Ser­vices Depart­ment said beach work­ers were us­ing ab­sorbent strips to pre­vent the spread of the oil and gov­ern­ment de­part­ments had been no­ti­fied to clean up the wa­ter. In a state­ment late Sun­day it de­scribed the palm oil as “harm­less to the hu­man body”. But en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists still fear the po­ten­tial im­pact and say the gov­ern­ment has not done enough to con­tain the spillage. “Whilst we may not see birds cov­ered in black oil, palm oil is haz­ardous to wildlife in that it at­tracts bac­te­ria,” said Gary Stokes of the Sea Shep­herd Con­ser­va­tion So­ci­ety.

Stokes added that the oil will dis­solve and break down, which could also re­move oxy­gen from the wa­ter and kill ma­rine life. The leak­age was caused by a col­li­sion be­tween two ves­sels near the Pearl River es­tu­ary in south­ern China on Thurs­day, the ma­rine depart­ment con­firmed. It said it had sent nine ves­sels to clean up the palm oil lumps in wa­ters off south­west­ern and south­ern Hong Kong.

In a state­ment to AFP it added that the clean-up had started Sat­ur­day, but did not re­spond to the ques­tion of how much oil had been leaked. Au­thor­i­ties in neigh­bor­ing Guang­dong prov­ince must give no­ti­fi­ca­tion of oil spills, the depart­ment said. When asked why Hong Kong au­thor­i­ties had not been told of the Thurs­day spill un­til Sat­ur­day, the depart­ment said it was “be­cause those sub­stances may flow into Hong Kong wa­ters af­ter two days”.

Swathes of rub­bish fre­quently clog the coast­line with au­thor­i­ties and en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists point­ing the fin­ger at south­ern main­land China as the source. How­ever, cam­paign­ers also say Hong Kong it­self has a ter­ri­ble track record on dump­ing of waste-the city’s land­fills are groan­ing at ca­pac­ity and there is no wide­spread re­cy­cling cul­ture. —AFP

HONG KONG: A cleaner rakes palm oil residue from the sand on a beach in Hong Kong. —AFP

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