Demand for answers on oil spill as cleanup continues

Five days after the collision of cargo ships in the Pearl River that released 9000 tonnes of palm oil, Lantau beaches appear to be nearly free of oil chunks and residue.

However, 13 beaches across Hong Kong remain closed and the government has been called on to answer key questions about the spill.

On Lantau, the oily residue has mostly been removed from Lower Cheung Sha and Tong Fuk beaches. On Pui O, the worst-hit local beach, FEHD cleaning staff filled dozens of bags of oil chunks as they cleaned up this morning.  Pui O, Upper Cheung Sha and Lower Cheung Sha beaches remain closed for bathing. Tong Fuk Beach is open.

Pui O Beach, Tuesday morning

On Lamma Island, which has been most heavily contaminated by the spill, the clean-up continued today at Nga Kau Wan Beach. Local resident and coastal cleanup activist Robert Lockyer said he estimated only about 10% of the material had been collected yesterday.

Congealed palm oil washed up on Yung Shue Wan, Lamma Island (Source: Robert Lockyer)

Two more Hong Kong beaches were closed this morning as a result of the spill, with Ken Ching, director of the Eco-Education and Resources Centre, warning that while the larger chunks had mostly been removed, he expects the situation to get worse next week.

Ching said that the water current will weaken by then, so a lot of the oil pieces will be trapped in coastal areas of the city.

He urged the government to increase the pace of its clean-up operation, adding that it would be helpful to know how much oil was spilled .

Dog owners also have been urged to keep their pets away from the affected beaches.

Lamma resident Sheila McClelland, a founder of the Lifelong Animal Protection Charity, says dogs could either choke or fall ill from ingesting the chunks of oil, SCMP.com reports . “Dogs love to eat fatty things. This can cause pancreatitis, a seriously life-threatening disease,” she said.

A dog roots among the oil residue on Yung Shue Wan Beach, Lamma (Source: Robert Lockyer)

Meanwhile, District Councillor Paul Zimmerman has asked Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung why it took “several days” and a series of media inquiries for the government to inform the Hong Kong public.

In an open letter he asks when the government learned of the spill, what action it took and who will foot the bill for the cleanup. He also seeks details of the accident, the names of the vessels involved and the nature of their cargo.

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