Palm oil spill: beaches reopen but questions remain
Two weeks after a maritime collision caused a massive palm oil spill, the impact is receding and some of the oil is to be recycled, but key questions remain.
The circumstances surrounding the accident are not clear. It has not been explained why Guangdong officials took two days to notify Hong Kong about the spill on the city’s boundary.
It is also not known how much material remains in the water and the longer-term impact on marine life and coastlines.
The government, which is yet to confirm the exact location of the event, denies misleading the public by claiming it occurred in the Pearl River Estuary. Technically the site of the collision, 12 kilometres south of Lantau, is part of the estuary, but the description suggests the Pearl River to Lantau’s west or north-west.
What we know about the location is through Roy Tam, the head of environmental group Green Sense, who says he learnt from the Marine Department that the collision took place just south of Dazhizhou island, four kilometres from the Hong Kong maritime boundary.
Green Sense has posted a video showing the route of the Panama-registered tanker, Global Apollon, on the morning of August 3. It was carrying 9000 tonnes of palm oil from Indonesia when it collided with Singapore-registered container ship Kota Ganteng.
The 10,700-tonne vessel is still anchored off Guishan, just west of Dazhizhou, according to shipping website maritimetraffic.com.
Tam and other activists have criticised Guangdong authorities about the delay in informing the Hong Kong government and urged them to improve their incident reporting systems, Apple Daily reports.
The Marine Department has said it is consulting with the Justice Department over legal action against the shipowners.
In another development, the Environment Protection Department is reported to have struck a deal with two companies to recycle some of the 207 tonnes of palm oil stearin collected on local beaches. But an EPD official admitted to SCMP.com:
…only some of the palm oil collected would be suitable for recycling. Some of it had been contaminated and would inevitably end up in a landfill.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department reopened Pui O Beach on Tuesday afternoon. All Lantau beaches affected by the spill are now open to the public, although five Hong Kong beaches remain closed.
With the worst of the immediate impact over, the longer-term impacts need to be monitored. The government says its testing shows that the oil content of water “remains at a low level.”
But it is not clear how much oil remains in the water and how it will impact on the marine environment. In sufficiently large volumes palm oil has the ability to soak up bacteria, infecting all levels of the food chain.
Photo (top): Global Apollon (Source: maritimetraffic.com)