The shipping collision which caused a large palm oil spill affecting beaches and marine life took place only four kilometres from Hong Kong waters, an environmentalist has said.

An oil tanker, The Global Apollon, was one of the two ships involved – it was built by Higaki Shipbuilding in 2015 and is operated by Global Marine Service Co Ltd. On August 3, it collided with Kota Ganteng, a cargo vessel built in 2002 and owned by Singaporean-incorporated Pacific International Line, according to Tradewinds News.

Hong Kong authorities were only informed of the spill two days later. Roy Tam, founder of Green Sense, said on Monday that the wording of government press releases was “misleading” as they suggested the collision had occurred a distance away from Hong Kong waters in the Pearl River Estuary. He cited the Marine Department as saying that the collision took place only 5.7 kilometres away from the Soko Islands, southwest of Lantau Island, or 4km from local waters.

The collision of Kota Ganteng (top) and Global Apollon (bottom) on August 3 caused a large palm oil spill in Hong Kong waters. Photo: Lim Hock Wu and husni/

Tam told HKFP that the government response to the spill had been “sloppy,” given the proximity of the collision to Hong Kong waters.

“There was a lack of effective communication between mainland and Hong Kong authorities,” said Tam. “Also, I don’t understand why the Hong Kong government did not use a more familiar name to refer to the location of the crash. When they say ‘Pearl River estuary,’ the inference is that it is far away from Hong Kong. However, the collision happened only four kilometres from us… The companies responsible must be made to take responsibility for this ecological disaster.”

Undersecretary for the Environment Tse Chin-wan said last Thursday that the government is considering 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.

Photo: Eco Resource Centre.

On Friday, the government re-opened five of the 13 affected patrolled beaches, citing the low level of oil content detected in water samples and the progress of clean-up efforts. However, it continued to warn citizens to keep their children and pets away from any palm oil found in the sand or on the surface of the water. It also said that melted oil found on beach rocks may be slippery.

On Monday, local organisations and conservationists involved in initiating volunteer clean-ups urged the government to better inform the public of the health hazards associated with contaminated palm oil, and warned citizens against taking any collected oil home for re-use. According to a press release from consultancy Kinzie, local volunteers fell ill after direct contact with the substance, experiencing symptoms such as diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness.

See more: In Pictures: 10 Hong Kong beaches closed after cargo ship collision causes palm oil spill

As of Sunday, government departments said that they had collected approximately 201 tonnes of palm oil from the sea surface and at the beaches.

HKFP has contacted the Marine Department for comment.

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.