Hong Kong may seek compensation from the company involved in last Thursday’s shipping collision, which caused tonnes of palm oil to spill into the ocean and wash up on beaches across the city.

During a visit to Lantau Island on Wednesday, Undersecretary for the Environment Tse Chin-wan told reporters that he had discussed legal liability with the firms. He said that the government will consider filing a civil lawsuit owing to the significant manpower and resources that will be required to clean up the oil, and because fish stocks and livelihoods may be affected.

Tse said the ship was registered abroad, but he did not mention its country of origin. He also did not specify the amount of compensation sought.

See more: Palm oil spill: Hong Kong gov’t closes more beaches as minister vows to hasten clean-up

palm oil beach clean-up
Palm oil collected during a beach clean-up. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP

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. 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.

In an open letter to the chief secretary for the administration on Tuesday, District Councillor Paul Zimmerman urged the Hong Kong government to reveal details of the two vessels, the identity of their owners, and the location of the collision.

See also: Dead fish wash ashore and citizens pledge clean-up as ‘snow-like’ palm oil spill prompts beach closures

palm oil beach cleanup
Beach clean-up on Lamma Island. Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

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. The manufacturer of the pellets, Sinopec, had said that it would contribute HK$10 million to support clean-up efforts. However, the final sum of the compensation amount was left undisclosed by the government, citing a confidentiality clause.

palm oil beach clean-up
Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP

Meanwhile, government and community-led beach clean-ups continued to be held in different parts of the city on Wednesday, with dozens of residents filling bags with the sticky grease on Lamma Island’s Power Station Beach.

See also: Palm oil collected from spill could be ‘upcycled’ into candles and soap, NGO says

Cleaners have been contracted to continue working on clearing the substance from government-gazetted beaches, while daily volunteer sessions have been scheduled through till Friday from 3pm to 6pm at Nga Kau Wan and Tai Wan To Beach on Lamma Island.

jun pang

Jun Pang

Jun Pang is an independent writer and researcher. She has previously worked in NGOs advocating for refugees' and migrants' rights in Asia and Europe.