The MTR Corporation has said it knew that there were wartime bombs under the Wan Chai reclamation area when planning the rail project in 2012, but did not know the exact number.

Two American bombs dropped during WWII were discovered last week and this week at a harbourfront construction site for the Sha Tin to Central Link in Wan Chai. The police blocked roads for hours and evacuated thousands for safety in order to defuse the bombs, each weighing over 1,000 pounds.

T.M. Lee, the general manager of the project and the MTRC’s head of electrical & mechanical construction, said the two bombs were found at the former Wan Chai swimming pool, which was part of the harbour during the war. The swimming pool was demolished last year to build the Exhibition Centre Station. The excavation reached 15 metres underground, where bombs were dropped during the war.

Wartime bomb
Photo: HKPF.

“We knew the risk when we planned the project,” he said. “Before we started excavation for Exhibition Station in 2016, we proactively asked the Police Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau to come to the site to give a briefing to engineering workers. We made plans for handling the bombs.”

Lee said only one excavator was used and multiple staff members were stationed to watch for suspicious objects. He added that the contractor had added metal detectors for the work after the discovery of bombs, and that the excavation will reach a deeper level – where wartime bombs were not expected to be present – in two months.

Work resumes

Lee said the work at Exhibition Centre Station has resumed, and the MTRC has consulted independent structural engineers to confirm that the bomb disposal work does not harm structural works.

Philco Wong, the MTRC’s projects director, also said that the existence of wartime bombs was  known in the 2012 planning stage, but the MTRC was unable to ascertain the exact number.

He said metal detectors were not used as the method was not ideal: “The material used for reclamation usually had different substances including iron – metal detectors were not an ideal or feasible method. But we now use metal detectors after the discovery of bombs and we are more careful.”

“Even if we only find waste metal with metal detectors, we will still handle it carefully like bombs.”

Sha Tin to Central Link
Sha Tin to Central Link. Photo: MTRC.

On Friday, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung commended the police for speedily defusing the bombs: “The gallantry of EODB [Explosive Ordnance Disposal Bureau] officers, their professionalism, calmness, outstanding performance made us proud.”

The cost of the Sha Tin to Central link has increased to HK$97.1 billion, making it the most expensive rail project in Hong Kong. The new service will connect rail services between Tai Wai and Admiralty.

Asked if the bomb disposals will cause extra costs and delays to the rail system, Wong said it will depend on the status of the construction and there was no clear conclusion yet.

The Tai Wai to Hung Hom section will extend the existing Ma On Shan Line from Tai Wai to the West Rail Line via East Kowloon to form the “East West Corridor.” It is 94 per cent complete and expected to be operational next year.

The Hung Hom to Admiralty Section will extend the existing East Rail Line across the harbour to Wan Chai North and Admiralty to form the “North South Corridor.” It is 64 per cent complete expected to be operational in 2021.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.