Police have left hundreds of spent tear gas grenades and debris from crowd control weapons on one of the Soko Islands following a training exercise.
The potentially hazardous refuse was spotted by HKFP on Tai A Chau – which is surrounded by the protected South Lantau Marine Park – on Saturday. The Force told HKFP that they “endeavour” to clean up after practice drills, but – when pressed as to whether they will return to the Sokos to clear the debris – they said they did “not have anything to add.”
Fragments of hand-thrown Rubber Bursting N225 CS Grenades were seen strewn across a concrete area over the weekend, metres from the shoreline. The shells of suspected Multi-Smoke Projectiles were also spotted, along with suspected blank bullet rounds.
An HKFP reporter also noted that visitors were able to detect tear gas in the air as the wind swept over the area.
A police spokesperson told HKFP on Monday that they “conduct regular training exercises and operations at Tai A Chau which enable officers to handle unforeseen incidents under different situations in a professional and efficient manner.”
“Police would endeavour to clean up all debris after these exercises and operations,” they added, but did not directly answer when asked about clearing up Tai A Chau.
The Force did not respond as to when the latest drills took place, though the debris and several scorched areas were not present during a visit by HKFP last November.
Exposure to tear gas can cause shortness of breath, burning skin, streaming eyes, a runny nose and sometimes vomiting. It is banned from use in warfare under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The far-flung island, southwest of Lantau, is uninhabited and has no regular transport – however, it is open to the public and is often visited by private vessels, fishermen and tour groups. Moves to redevelop the isolated island have been rejected, often because the surrounding waters are home to rare pink dolphins.
In the 1980s, the final residents were evacuated from Tai A Chau and it became a detention camp for Vietnamese refugees.
It was closed in 1996 as the refugees were relocated. The buildings were then demolished leaving the concrete foundations and pathways which remain today.
It is unclear whether civilians would be allowed to help clear the tear gas rounds from Tai A Chau. In 2021, a man was convicted of unlicensed possession of ammunition after collecting 38 spent tear gas rounds during the 2019 protests and unrest.
When asked for clarification, Police told HKFP that retaining spent rounds without a licence is an offence: “According to section 13 of Cap. 238 Firearms and Ammunition Ordinance, no person shall have in his possession any arms or ammunition coming within any shell case or cartridge case unless he holds a licence for possession of such arms or ammunition or a dealer’s licence therefor. A person who contravenes the above Ordinance commits an offence and is liable on conviction upon indictment to a maximum fine of HK$100,000 and to imprisonment for 14 years.”
During 2019, over 30,000 tear gas rounds were fired as the anti-extradition law demonstrations escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent and calls for democracy.
In light of the crackdown, the UK suspended export licences for crowd control equipment to Hong Kong in June 2019, whilst the US Protect Hong Kong Act prohibited the sale of the weapon to the Force.
Correction 19:20: Tai A Chau is surrounded by the South Lantau Marine Park, as opposed to being part of it, according to the Agriculture and Fisheries Department. We regret the error.
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