Cleanup efforts continue on Hong Kong's beaches, which have been been hit by a spill of thousands of tonnes of semisolid palm oil.
The oil was released in a vessel collision last Thursday, but Hong Kong authorities were not notified until Saturday. The vessels involved were reportedly the chemical tanker Global Apollon and the container ship Kota Ganteng. The Apollon was carrying about 9,000 tonnes of palm oil, and an estimated 1,000 tonnes escaped into the water. As of Friday, the Ganteng was anchored near Singapore and the Apollon was anchored off Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government intends to seek damages from the vessels’ owners.
Despite containment efforts by response boats from Guangzhou province, about 200 tonnes is expected to reach Hong Kong's shores. The Hong Kong government closed 13 beaches in response; five have since reopened, but volunteers and workers continue to clean sticky globs of oil off the sand and rocks, especially on Lamma Island, which was worst hit. Local environmental groups have helped to mobilize residents to join the effort, and as of Thursday, cleaning teams had removed more than 150 tonnes of sludge in plastic garbage bags.
Palm oil is nontoxic, but environmental advocacy group Sea Shepherd reports that fish have been observed eating it in large quantities, and higher-than-normal numbers of dead fish have been washing ashore in recent days.
Civil society groups and citizens have expressed frustration at the delay between the spill, the notification from mainland Chinese authorities and the official response. The pollution is reminiscent of Hong Kong's plastic pellet spill of 2012, when six containers full of raw plastic fell off a boxship in a storm, spreading tiny pellets (or nurdles) all over the beaches.