Sinopec offers HK$10m to clean up affected beaches

Updated: 2012-08-10 06:57

By Ming Yeung and Fan Feifei (HK Edition)

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 Sinopec offers HK$10m to clean up affected beaches

Staff of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department clear plastic pellets at Shek Pai Wan on Lamma Island with vacuum cleaners on Thursday. Pending the shipping company's report, Sinopec offered to help pay to clean up tons of pellets that have fouled Hong Kong beaches since they spilled at sea during a typhoon in July. GIS Photo

Search continues for missing container afterJuly 23 spill

Sinopec has established a HK$10-million fund to assist green groups in cleaning up the millions of plastic pellets from a container ship that have been washed ashore on local beaches and fish farms.

The 150 tons of polypropylene pellets were being shipped on board a freighter Yong Xin Jie 1 from Nansha Port to Shantou when signal 10 typhoon Vicente struck on July 23. The pellets, in six containers, were blown into the sea. The pellets then washed onto the outlying islands of Hong Kong, stirring concerns over environmental damage to the ocean itself, as well as to marine life.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying emphasized that those responsible for the spill need to be held accountable, and the pellets to be cleaned up as soon as possible. He said attention should be paid to whether mariculturists need the government's assistance.

At a media briefing on Thursday, nearly three weeks after the incident, officials of the mainland petroleum giant Sinopec told reporters that they had learned of the spill on July 25 but were uncertain of the location where the containers had toppled off the ship.

Lu Dapeng, spokesman for Sinopec, did not respond when asked if he believed the company should be held responsible for the spill, saying only that the pellets were given over to the shipping company for transport.

Vice-President Zhang Guoming of Sinopec Chemical Commercial Holdings said as the owner of the cargo, Sinopec, was not involved in the decision making process about when to halt shipments under various weather conditions.

Zhang added that the company was awaiting an incident report from the shipper, China Shipping Container Lines, and he urged the shipping agent and carriers to provide detailed reports as soon as possible.

The company has not considered paying compensation to fish farmers whose culture zones were hard hit by the spill.

"Compensation is closely tied to liability," said Lu, maintaining that it is up to local authorities to determine which party should be held responsible for the incident.

"Regardless of who is eventually found to be liable, Sinopec will remain fully engaged in clearing the pellets, support the associated expenses and we will honor all of our legal obligations and social responsibilities," stressed the spokesman.

Lu said the top priority is to find a missing container and to prevent further pollution. The HK$10-million fund will be used mainly to equip environmental protection groups to purchase cleaning equipment such as electric generators and industrial vacuum machines which they said would help speed up the cleaning process.

The fund will also be used to locate and salvage the missing sixth container.

Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing and Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok arrived at Lamma Island on Thursday afternoon to learn first hand about the situation of the pellets scattered on beaches. They also participated in clean-up efforts among volunteers from the disciplined forces.

Wong said he refused to send the pellets to landfills, increasing the burden on those facilities. He added the pellets have been stored and the authority will announce later the volume of pellets collected and how it will deal with them.

The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department increased patrols on the beaches, and the government sent divers to inspect the situation underwater, but found nothing abnormal, Wong added.

The department indicated that, since July 24, the Centre for Food Security has tested 90 sea fish samples taken from retailers and wholesalers and found no evidence of pellets.

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