Speed row hits dolphin waters

Local | Yupina Ng 17 Feb 2016

The Airport Authority must resubmit its documents if it allows high-speed ferries at SkyPier to break the speed limit in waters used by Chinese white dolphins "for navigational safety," the Enironmental Protection Department says.

The remarks came after a letter issued by the Hong Kong Seamen's Union on February 4 said the authority allowed high-speed ferries to travel as fast as 19 knots without explanation.

But under the third runway project, the authority's environmental permit requires captains of high-speed ferries to and from its SkyPier through the northern Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau Marine Park to navigate at 15 knots, or below, to protect the white dolphins in the area.

"Representatives from the Airport Authority said if captains need to speed up to 19 knots, they will not issue a warning. If the speed is over 19 knots, then they need to report to the environmental authority [Environmental Protection Department]," the letter read.

A spokeswoman said the department would follow up with the authority.

"High-speed ferries traveling between the areas must reduce to 15 knots as stated in the environmental permit," she said. "The Airport Authority must resubmit its documents if there are any changes."

She stressed the permit owner must work according to the regulations unless there are emergency and safety circumstances.

Dolphin Conservation Society chairman Samuel Hung Ka-yiu said the department should recall the permit when necessary.

Describing the change as serious, Hung said: "I personally think that they have violated the regulation and wonder if they are doing this behind the back of the Environmental Protection Department."

The society would file a complaint to the department.

Hong Kong Seamen's Union vice chairman Choi Leung-pei stressed that human safety should always come first.

An Airport Authority spokesman said high-speed ferries could only increase their speed when they were affected by navigational safety, sea operation, the flow of water and weather.

He added that the authority would issue a written warning and suspend the ferry if its operator lacked a reasonable explanation.

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