Oil tanker fire incident off Lamma Island could have been ‘catastrophic’ for HK wildlife

Oil tanker fire incident off Lamma Island could have been ‘catastrophic’ for HK wildlife

Damage to birds, mammals and marine life would have been much worse if Aulac Fortune had been fully loaded with oil

Hong Kong is lucky that the oil tanker Aulac Fortune was not fully loaded when it exploded on Tuesday, an academic told Young Post yesterday.

One person died and two are still missing after the tanker caught fire after three explosions whilst refuelling. The ship was just south of Lamma Island at the time, waiting for its new cargo. Dozens of sailors were rescued and rushed to hospital.

Marshal Liu Yuenshuai, Assistant Professor at the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, says it is lucky that the tanker was not fully loaded at the time. If it had been, the consequences would have been catastrophic for Hong Kong’s wildlife, Liu said.

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“An oil spill can kill seabirds, mammals [such as the Chinese white dolphin], shellfish, and other sea life,” he added. “Most birds affected by oil spills die, even after being cleaned. Fortunately, there was no cargo inside and the fire was put out on time, so the oil leaking to sea should be minimal.”

He said oil tankers were always considered a high risk to the environment. “Oil spills, once they happen, can have disastrous consequences to [a society’s] economic, environmental, and social aspects. Once there is leakage, [the] clean-up and recovery must be conducted immediately.”

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Luckily for Hong Kong, fire and rescue services were able to bring the fire on board the Aulac Fortune under control and extinguish it on the same day. It burned for just about five hours.

In January last year, the oil tanker Sanchi collided with a cargo ship, CF Crystal, off the coast of Shanghai. The Sanchi was carrying highly flammable fuel oil and all crew members died. The tanker burned and drifted for a week after the accident before it sank, despite firefighters from China, the US, and South Korea trying to bring it under control.

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