Ten beaches in Hong Kong have been forced to close after a ship sank in mainland waters last week and leaked about 9,000 metric tons of palm oil.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) said red flags were hoisted at Hung Shing Yeh Beach and Lo So Shing Beach on Lamma Island and Lantau Island’s Pui O Beach, Tong Fuk Beach and Upper and Lower Cheung Sha Beach, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Red flags also went up in Repulse Bay Beach, Middle Bay Beach, South Bay Beach and Chung Hom Kok Beach in Southern District after lumps of congealed palm oil washed ashore.
The department said all of the beaches will remain closed until further notice.
The Marine Department confirmed two ships collided near the Pearl River estuary on Thursday. One of them sank and its cargo of palm oil leaked into the sea.
The accident took place near Soko Islands. Pui O Beach was the hardest hit.
The Environmental Protection Department said congealed palm oil, which is commonly used in food packaging material and cosmetics, is harmless to humans. Staff took some samples for tests.
It said it will not recommend the reopening of the beaches until the water quality is assured.
Ken Ching, founder and chairman of the Eco-Education and Resources Centre, warned that if the oil floats on the sea for an extended period, the water may turn sour and stink, encouraging the growth of algae, Apple Daily reported.
Fish may also be killed in case of red tide or harmful algal blooms which can reduce oxygen content in the sea, Ching said.
The center and Green Power are recruiting volunteers to clean up the beaches on Lamma Island from Tuesday to Friday.
The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said it is keeping a close eye on the incident and its impact on the fishing industry and marine ecology.
Meanwhile, Chan King-ming, an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the incident exposed the fact that the notification mechanism between Hong Kong and the mainland needs improvement.
Hong Kong was not notified about the leak until Saturday, or two days later.
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