Hong Kong cleans up 93 tonnes of palm oil; beaches smothered by spill

Anne Marie Roantree and Donny Kwok Reuters 9 Aug 17;


HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong stepped up efforts on Wednesday to clean up a massive palm oil spill, with authorities scooping up more than 90 tonnes of foul-smelling, styrofoam-like clumps in one of the worst environmental disasters to blight the territory's waters.

Dead fish, shells, rocks, plastic bottles and other rubbish could still be found coated with globules of palm oil on beaches across the Chinese-controlled territory six days after the spill caused after two vessels collided in the Pearl River estuary.

The government said it had scooped up 93 tonnes of oil waste, most of it congealed, and the amount left floating on the sea surface had fallen significantly.

Stretches of some of Hong Kong's most popular beaches were still smothered with white clumps of jelly-like palm oil on Wednesday and an accompanying sour stench.

The spill has sparked outrage among some residents and environmentalists and comes just a year after mountains of rubbish washed up on Hong Kong's beaches, with labels and packaging indicating most of it had come from mainland China.

The government has closed 13 beaches since Sunday, a day after it said it had been informed of the spill by mainland authorities. The Marine Department confirmed the collision happened on Thursday.

Environmental groups have said the size of the spill could bring severe ecological consequences, although the government said preliminary tests showed few traces of oil in affected areas.

Samantha Lee, conservation manager at the World Wildlife Fund in Hong Kong, said 1,000 tonnes of palm oil spilled into the water after the vessels collided, out of a total of 9,000 tonnes.

Media quoted the Environment Bureau as saying the government was discussing the legal liability for the disaster with the shipping company involved, which it declined to identify.

Beach guards collect oil absorbent strips on Cheung Sha beach at Lantau Island in Hong Kong, China August 9, 2017.
Bobby Yip
The impact on the territory's marine life, which includes the endangered Chinese white dolphins - also known as pink dolphins - was not immediately clear.

On Pui O beach on Lantau Island, large stinking clumps of congealed palm oil dotted the shoreline, and a rock formation at one end that children love to climb was coated in the slippery substance.

Scores of workers fanned out to scoop up oil waste, more than 100 black bags of which were piled up early on Wednesday ready to be trucked away.

Slideshow (8 Images)
There was a similar scene on nearby Lamma Island, where authorities and residents have also cleaned up tonnes of oil.

The spill comes at the height of summer, when visitors, campers and holiday makers throng to beaches and outlying islands, especially at weekends.

Hong Kong has sweltered in temperatures of about 33 degrees Celsius (91 Fahrenheit) for more than a week, with little relief expected soon, which some environmentalists fear could worsen the problem by oxidizing the oil.

The possibility of an algae bloom formed by decaying palm oil, which would compete with fish for oxygen, would be a huge threat.

The Environmental Protection Department said it would continue collecting samples from beaches and recommend phased re-opening once the water quality is confirmed safe.

Hong Kong's coastal waters and beaches are often strewn with rubbish from mainland China, where some companies discharge waste into the sea to cut costs, conservationists say.

Additional reporting by Farah Master and Bobby Yip; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez

Video: "Palm oil spill wreaks havoc on Hong Kong beaches"

UPDATE 1-Hong Kong cleans up 93 tonnes of palm oil; beaches smothered by spill
* Stinking clumps of palm oil smother popular beaches
* Govt says amount of oil floating on sea surface has declined
* Impact on marine life yet to be determined (Adds details on clean-up efforts throughout)

Anne Marie Roantree and Donny Kwok Reuters 9 Aug 17;

HONG KONG, Aug 9 (Reuters) - Hong Kong stepped up efforts on Wednesday to clean up a massive palm oil spill, with authorities scooping up more than 90 tonnes of foul-smelling, styrofoam-like clumps in one of the worst environmental disasters to blight the territory's waters.

Dead fish, shells, rocks, plastic bottles and other rubbish could still be found coated with globules of palm oil on beaches across the Chinese-controlled territory six days after the spill caused after two vessels collided in the Pearl River estuary.

The government said it had scooped up 93 tonnes of oil waste, most of it congealed, and the amount left floating on the sea surface had fallen significantly.

Stretches of some of Hong Kong's most popular beaches were still smothered with white clumps of jelly-like palm oil on Wednesday and an accompanying sour stench.

The spill has sparked outrage among some residents and environmentalists and comes just a year after mountains of rubbish washed up on Hong Kong's beaches, with labels and packaging indicating most of it had come from mainland China.

The government has closed 13 beaches since Sunday, a day after it said it had been informed of the spill by mainland authorities. The Marine Department confirmed the collision happened on Thursday.

Environmental groups have said the size of the spill could bring severe ecological consequences, although the government said preliminary tests showed few traces of oil in affected areas.

Samantha Lee, conservation manager at the World Wildlife Fund in Hong Kong, said 1,000 tonnes of palm oil spilled into the water after the vessels collided, out of a total of 9,000 tonnes.

Media quoted the Environment Bureau as saying the government was discussing the legal liability for the disaster with the shipping company involved, which it declined to identify.

The impact on the territory's marine life, which includes the endangered Chinese white dolphins - also known as pink dolphins - was not immediately clear.

On Pui O beach on Lantau Island, large stinking clumps of congealed palm oil dotted the shoreline, and a rock formation at one end that children love to climb was coated in the slippery substance.

Scores of workers fanned out to scoop up oil waste, more than 100 black bags of which were piled up early on Wednesday ready to be trucked away.

There was a similar scene on nearby Lamma Island, where authorities and residents have also cleaned up tonnes of oil.

The spill comes at the height of summer, when visitors, campers and holiday makers throng to beaches and outlying islands, especially at weekends.

Hong Kong has sweltered in temperatures of about 33 degrees Celsius (91 Fahrenheit) for more than a week, with little relief expected soon, which some environmentalists fear could worsen the problem by oxidising the oil.

The possibility of an algae bloom formed by decaying palm oil, which would compete with fish for oxygen, would be a huge threat.

The Environmental Protection Department said it would continue collecting samples from beaches and recommend phased re-opening once the water quality is confirmed safe.

Hong Kong's coastal waters and beaches are often strewn with rubbish from mainland China, where some companies discharge waste into the sea to cut costs, conservationists say. (Additional reporting by Farah Master and Bobby Yip; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez)


Beaches shut after palm oil spill in Hong Kong
Channel NewsAsia 7 Aug 17;

HONG KONG: Ten beaches typically packed on a hot weekend were closed in Hong Kong on Sunday (Aug 6) due to a palm oil spillage from a ship collision in mainland Chinese waters.

Photographs showed styrofoam-like clumps lining the shores, while the waters at a fishing village popular with tourists were seen covered in oil and rubbish.

Hong Kong comprises more than 200 islands, many with popular beaches, but there are increasing concerns about pollution and rubbish blighting the city's shores.

The government closed six beaches and hoisted warning flags after "white, oily substances" were spotted on the waters and sands off southern Hong Kong's outlying islands on Sunday morning, according to a statement.

Four additional beaches on the southern coast of the main Hong Kong Island were shut when beach staffers found "white, granular substances" on them, the statement added.

Despite the rise of debris on beaches, washed ashore from mainland China and other parts of Hong Kong, residents in areas affected by the spillage said they have never seen anything like the congealed oil lumps.

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"It had a sort of bubbly consistency," said a resident of Lamma Island quoted by the South China Morning Post, who added the substances were strewn along the high-tide line.

Others cited a rancid smell later in the afternoon, the paper reported.

The leakage was caused by the crash between two vessels near the Pearl River estuary in southern China on Thursday, the marine department confirmed.

While oil spills from ships are relatively common in Hong Kong, the edible palm oil may have hazardous effects once it has absorbed toxins in the ocean, according to Gary Stokes of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, quoted by the South China Morning Post.

Source: AFP/ec


Anger mounts in Hong Kong over massive palm oil spill
Channel NewsAsia 8 Aug 17;

HONG KONG: Residents in Hong Kong desperately tried to clear the coastline of greasy lumps of palm oil on Tuesday (Aug 8) as it continues to wash ashore after a huge spillage at sea.

Their efforts came as the government said around 1,000 tonnes of the solidified oil had spilled from a cargo ship after a collision with another vessel near the Pearl River estuary in southern China Thursday.

It was the first time authorities had confirmed how much had been spilled.

Around 200 tonnes is likely to reach Hong Kong's shores, deputy environment chief Tse Chin-wan told reporters.

Thirteen of the city's most popular swimming spots are closed after white clumps of the oil started appearing Sunday.

Official cleaning teams have been sent to clear it from beaches and surrounding waters.

But criticism of the government's response is mounting.

On Wednesday afternoon a team of local volunteers from Lamma Island in the south of Hong Kong braved sweltering heat and humidity to comb one of the worst-affected beaches, filling black bin bags with the lumps of oil.)

A sour stench hung over the area and small numbers of dead fish were washing in.

The surrounding pathways were slippery with oil that had melted as temperatures hit 33°C.

"The government should put in more effort to clean up. I'm here because no one else is doing it," Tony Mok, 31, told AFP.

"Every morning it looks like it has snowed in Hong Kong and every afternoon it's all melted back down under the sand," said Lamma resident Robert Lockyer, who was leading the two dozen volunteers working to remove the oily white clumps.

Aleli Pena, 38, described the clean-up effort as "hard, hot and disgusting".

"We're all volunteers. Where are you government?" she asked.

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE?

Others said government cleaners had been working hard, but questioned why more had not been done to intercept the oil before it reached the beaches.

Environment campaigner Gary Stokes said the government should have installed pollution booms - a kind of floating barrier - to stop the oil reaching the beaches.

Stokes, Asia Director for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, has written to the marine department asking them to install the booms to guard against more oil washing in.

Tse had said earlier that he would not rule out the oil spreading to other areas.

The government has repeatedly described the palm oil as non-toxic and "harmless" to humans.

"You will see that many instant noodles have palm oil in them," Tse said Wednesday, although he acknowledged a large amount would affect the environment.

Stokes said the oil was hazardous to wildlife because it attracts bacteria and had left a greasy film on the water which would reduce the supply of oxygen.

After examining the waters by boat himself, he told AFP the fish were "going crazy" for the lumps of oil and eating it, with unknown consequences.

The government has been questioned over why it was not notified by mainland authorities until Saturday of the Thursday spill.

Tse said it was only then that Chinese authorities realised it would spread to "other regions".

The marine department then dispatched ships to try to recover some of the oil, he said.

So far 50 tonnes had been gathered in Hong Kong and 38 tonnes in Guangdong, Tse added.
Source: AFP/aa


Hong Kong scoops up 158 tonnes of palm oil; reopens five beaches
Reuters 11 Aug 17;

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong has reopened five of 13 beaches closed since last Sunday following a palm oil spill, after authorities collected more than 150 tonnes of acrid-smelling clumps in one of the Chinese territory's worst environmental disasters.

The spill last week after two vessels collided in the Pearl River estuary left white globs of jelly-like palm oil in the water and strewn across beaches, along with dead fish, rocks, shells and rubbish smothered in the oil.

On Friday the government said five of the 13 popular beaches around the former British colony have been reopened. All of these beaches had been closed since last Sunday.

Over 300 staff had been deployed to tackle the oil waste, the government said, while scores of volunteers also helped to scoop up the waste into black plastic bags.

The spill sparked outrage among some residents and environmentalists and comes just a year after mountains of rubbish washed up on Hong Kong's beaches, with labels and packaging indicating most of it had come from mainland China.

The Under Secretary for the Environment Tse Chin-wan said on Thursday the situation was becoming more stable.

The spill comes at the peak of summer, when visitors, campers and holiday makers throng to beaches and outlying islands, especially at weekends.

Environment groups have warned the spill could have severe ecological consequences, with Hong Kong's sweltering summer temperatures raising the threat of a harmful algae bloom that would compete with fish for oxygen.

The government said water samples in affected areas showed oil content remained at low levels, but Tse warned that there might still be traces of the palm oil pellets in the sand.

Hong Kong's Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) said it was monitoring the impact on the fishing industry and the marine parks.

The effect on marine life, which includes the endangered Chinese white dolphins - also known as pink dolphins - and green turtles was not immediately clear.

Hong Kong's coastal waters and beaches are often strewn with rubbish from mainland China, where some companies discharge waste into the sea to cut costs, conservationists say.

Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Richard Pullin & Shri Navaratnam

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