Top News | Riley Chan and Michelle Chan 9 Aug 2017

Environmental officers fear the area of a devastating palm oil spill could get bigger and that the cleanup could take two weeks.

Yesterday 13 beaches were shut, affecting thousands of residents seeking relief from the heat.

One container from a cargo ship was punctured in Thursday's collision in the Pearl River Estuary southwest of Hong Kong. At least 1,000 tonnes of palm oil were spilled, with about one fifth reaching Hong Kong since Saturday, Environmental Undersecretary Tse Chin- wan said.

He estimated that about 100 to 200 tonnes had yet to be cleared after visiting worst-hit Lamma Island - the first visit by a senior official since the mainland informed the SAR about the oil spill.

He said the government had so far collected more than 50 tonnes of palm oil from the sea surface and at beaches, while the mainland authorities had cleared 38 tonnes. As the palm oil remains in solid form, it is relatively easy to remove.

The government said on Monday the Marine Department had arranged nine vessels and two foreshore teams to clean up the waters in the western and southern parts of Hong Kong.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said it had inspected 16 non-gazetted beaches and assisted in cleaning up pollutants on the shore. It collected 110 bags of palm oil waste at Nga Kau Wan on Lamma.

Aircraft of the Government Flying Service helped to track the dispersed palm oil.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said no fish farmers had been affected but that it would continue to monitor the impact on fisheries and marine ecology.

All five marine parks, including those at Sha Chau and Lung Kwu Chau and the Brothers in North Lantau waters, remained unaffected.

Despite claiming that palm oil is non- toxic and harmless, two more of the 41 gazetted public beaches were closed yesterday, taking the total to 13 since Sunday.

Staff at the beaches have applied oil absorbent blankets and strips to prevent the dispersion of the floating oil.

People have been advised to avoid swimming at the beaches.

The Environmental Protection Department took samples from 11 affected beaches, and in 90 percent of samples, oil was undetectable, deputy director Elvis Au Wai-kwong said.

Staff and volunteers from the Eco- Education and Resources Centre cleaned up about 400 kilos of palm oil at Lamma Power Station beach yesterday.

"The situation has improved," said Stanley Chan Kam-wai, conservation manager of the center. "We no longer see dead fish today. Yesterday there were more than 50 dead fish."

A science student at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Marlon Li Man- lung, 21, said he was involved in the polystyrene cleanup at Lamma Island five years ago but this time it was much more difficult.

"The oil just spread all over my body," he said.

Despite the red flag at Hung Shing Yeh, many tourists were spotted at the beach yesterday. Some appeared clueless about the incident. Wong Kwai-hung, 40, a frequent beach-goer, said she found the sand sticky and slippery and had been asking other visitors the reason, but no one knew about it.

Another visitor, Wong, 30, said he was informed of the palm oil incident but did not know Hung Shing Yeh Beach was affected.


michelle.chan@singtaonewscorp.co= m

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