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HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong has closed more than a dozen beaches after a palm oil spill washed foul-smelling, Styrofoam-like clumps ashore, the latest environmental disaster to blight the territory's waters.
The Chinese-controlled city closed two more beaches in the south of Hong Kong island on Tuesday, bringing to 13 the total shut since two vessels collided in the Pearl River estuary.
It took two days for mainland Chinese authorities to inform Hong Kong about the collision, the government said. Media said the accident happened on Thursday.
The spill has sparked outrage among some residents and environmentalists and comes just a year after mountains of rubbish washed up on Hong Kong's beaches, with labels and packaging indicating most of it had come from mainland China.
It also comes at the height of summer, when beaches and outlying islands are packed with daytrippers, campers and holiday makers, especially at weekends.
The Hong Kong government said it had collected 50 tonnes of palm oil so far, most of it congealed, while workers scooped up 110 bags of palm oil waste on one beach alone on the popular Lamma Island.
Media reported that 1,000 tonnes of palm oil spilled into the water after the vessels collided.
The Environmental Protection Department has collected water samples from affected beaches and said it planned to release its results later in the day.
The government said in a statement that palm oil was non-toxic and harmless, but given the large amount that had washed up on beaches and the fact that the laboratory results were not yet available, the beaches would remain closed.
Hong Kong's coastal waters and beaches are often strewn with rubbish from mainland China, where some companies discharge waste into the sea to save the cost of proper disposal, according to conservationists.
In 2012, hundreds of millions of tiny plastic pellets washed up on Hong Kong's beaches following a container spill during a typhoon, prompting a massive clean-up operation.
(Reporting By Anne Marie Roantree and Donny Kwok; Editing by Nick Macfie)