Palm oil from a spill caused by a vessel collision in early August may be converted into renewable fuel, according to the government.

On August 3, a Japanese chemical tanker and a Singaporean container ship collided four kilometres from Hong Kong waters – around 1,000 tonnes of palm oil were spilled. Local authorities were notified two days later, and subsequently closed 13 gazetted public beaches. Environmental groups called the event an “ecological disaster” owing to the oil’s effect on wildlife and residents.

See also: Palm oil shipping collision occurred just 4km from city, says environmentalist as clean-up continues

Last week, volunteers assisted with the clean-up effort on beaches throughout Lamma Island. Photo: Eco Resource Centre.

As of Wednesday, the government said that it had collected approximately 211 tonnes of oil from the sea surface and affected beaches.

In order to reduce the risk of hygiene problems caused by the decaying oil and to lighten the burden of the city’s landfills, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) said that it had approached two local firms to recover and convert the substance into biodiesel and other recycled materials. Biodiesel is a form of renewable energy that is created using vegetable oil. It can be used in engines to replace petroleum-based fuel. 


Conservationist Robert Lockyer told HKFP that whilst he thought the government was acting correctly in trying to find a way to re-use the waste product, he was concerned that it was a “diversion.”

“I think the biodiesel solution is candy being offered to Hong Kong. So much of the 200 tonnes of palm oil collected has been contaminated – I would say that only the oil collected in the first two days is usable, so only a third of the total amount.”

See also: Palm oil spill: Hong Kong gov’t may seek damages from shipping companies

Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP

“If we only focus on converting the palm oil into biodiesel, then people will forget about the 800 tonnes that are sitting in the ocean, about the bacteria that is growing on the oil,” Lockyer said. “It’s very easy to say that visually, things look better. But when you dig deeper, the reality is very different: there remains a lot of oil under the sand and beneath the surface of the sea.”

Lockyer has been leading clean-up efforts on Lamma Island.

The Leisure and Cultural Services Department announced on Wednesday that Chung Hom Kok Beach, Deep Water Bay Beach and Repulse Bay Beach in the Southern District would be re-opened for public use. However, the government has continued to warn swimmers to keep away from any palm oil found in the sand, and to beware of slippery surfaces.

Daily volunteer clean-ups organised by environmental groups will continue on Thursday and through the weekend on Lamma Island. Junior Chamber International East Kowloon has organised a session under the civic-led Let’s do it! Hong Kong movement for Lo So Shing Beach on Saturday.

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.