Stench from burning metal-waste ship blows across HK

Top News | Sophie Hui 4 Jun 2021

A burning cargo ship full of scrap metal that sent billows of acrid smoke to many parts of Hong Kong has been put out after 15 hours, with fire and marine officers still probing the cause of the incident in waters off Tsing Yi near Stonecutters Island.

The strong smell and smoke triggered an influx of reports from people across the western part of the city as they mistook them for nearby fires.

Residents in Kwai Ching and Sham Shui Po and as far away as Sha Tin could smell the smoke.

The fire prompted calls for the government to reveal the types of chemicals released during the third-alarm fire and step up the warning mechanism when the level of suspended particles surge in similar incidents.

The Panama-registered 100-meter-long "Affluent Ocean," with 15 crew aboard, caught fire at around 5.30pm on Wednesday. The Fire Services Department upgraded the blaze to third alarm at 11pm. The fire was put under control at 8.20am yesterday.

No one was injured among the crew and the department has received no report of people feeling unwell from the smoke.

The vessel was still berthed but was badly damaged in the waters south of Tsing Yi.

Commander Yiu Men-yeung from the department's marine and diving division said the fire broke out at the stern of the ship that was carrying around 1,000 tonnes of metal waste destined to be recycled. No other chemical was found. The fire did not spread to two 45-meter-long barges next to the vessel.

"As there were strong winds and high waves, it was very difficult for firefighters to put out the fire on the cargo ship," Yiu said.

"Moreover, there was a lot of scrap metal on the vessel, piled up like a mountain. Our water and fire extinguishing foam could not reach the source of the blaze directly. Also, the vessel tilted because the water pump malfunctioned. These factors increased our difficulty in putting out the fire."

A total of 22 crew on the cargo ship and the two barges were rescued. Fifteen of them, including 11 crew from the mainland and four from Indonesia, were sent to Penny's Bay Quarantine Centre.

Yiu said the department had deployed 32 fire engines and ambulances, nine fireboats, and 183 firemen and ambulancemen in the operation.

He said the area was blowing light southwesterly winds and the smoke spread to West Kowloon.

The Marine Department said the fire did not cause oil pollution but will coordinate with the FSD in investigating the incident.

The vessel entered Hong Kong waters from the mainland city Nansha on Monday and had planned to go to Vietnam after Hong Kong.

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June 2021

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