Cleanup as oil hits Hong Kong beaches

Lamma Island

Lamma Island

Deputy Director of Environmental Protection Elvis Au told RTHK radio that one of the cargo vessels caught in a the collision was transporting 9,000 tonnes of the substance, though he was uncertain how much had leaked into the ocean.

[Brief] Palm oil spilled in a ship collision in Chinese waters has forced the closure of 11 popular beaches in Hong Kong, with white chunks of solidified oil drifting ashore and fouling the sand.

The government said on Tuesday that it had collected approximately 93 tonnes of palm oil from the sea surface and at the beaches, since the city was notified of the spill.

Palm oil collected during a beach clean-up.

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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 China's mainland.

It took two days for mainland Chinese authorities to inform Hong Kong about the collision, the government said.

Environmental groups have said that the scale of the spill could have severe ecological consequences, although the government said preliminary tests showed low traces of oil from affected areas.

In July 2012, Typhoon Vicente caused six containers, or 150 tonnes, of plastic pellets to be lost at sea, leading to widespread pollution in Hong Kong waters.

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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 fish farms, helping to meet huge demand in Cantonese restaurants in the densely populated territory, was not immediately clear.

There was a similar scene on nearby Lamma Island, where authorities and residents have also been busy cleaning up tons of oil.

It also comes at the height of summer, when beaches and outlying islands are packed with daytrippers, campers and holiday makers, especially at weekends.

It has deployed helicopters and nine ships to help find and collect the waste while workers at public beaches are using absorbent blankets and strips to contain the mess.

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