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December, 2004:

Warning Of Ferry Fare Rise In Fuel Row

Marine Pollution – Warning Of Ferry Fare Rise In Fuel Row

Article written in 2004.

Operators say passenger charges will increase if they are forced to use the more expensive ultra-low sulfur diesel


The city’s two major ferry operators warn passenger fares may increase if the government requires them to use low-sulfur fuel.

The warning, by Star Ferry and New World First Ferry, comes as the Marine Department says that 900 locally licensed diesel vessels will have to cut emissions once a proposed anti-pollution law comes into effect. It will bring vessels’ emission standards into line with those for land vehicles.

The department is also studying the feasibility of making passenger ferries use ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) as part of measures aimed at slashing the emissions of sulfur and nitrogen oxide by sea and ocean-going vessels.

The more expensive ULSD has been used by city diesel-powered road vehicles since 2000. However, only 160 government launches operated by various departments have used this fuel at sea.

Both ferry companies have resisted the proposed switch to the more expensive fuel, saying the extra financial burden will mean higher fares for passengers. Both companies said their ships already used light diesel that contained only 0.3 per cent sulfur, but was $1.80 per litre cheaper than ULSD.

Unlike road vehicles, ferry emissions have not been regulated by the environment department. Instead, vague rules in the shipping law – which make it an offence for ships to emit enough smoke to create a nuisance – have been enforced by the Marine Department.

Under this law, the department has received 51 complaints and issued 18 warnings from 2002 to 2004, only one of which resulted in prosecution.

The Marine Department’s pending laws are in line with regulations adopted by the International Maritime Organisation, a United Nations agency, in May.

These capped the sulfur content of sea and ocean-going vessels’ fuel and cut their allowable emissions of nitrogen oxides.

“We are now incorporating these requirements into the law,” a spokesman for the Marine Department said.

“We believe most locally licensed ships have reached the required standard, as fuel oil currently supplied in the city contains less than 0.5 per cent sulfur.”

A timetable for legislation and implementation has yet to be decided, the spokesman said.

A spokeswoman for New World First Ferry, which last week won approval to increase fares by 6.5 per cent across the board, warned that it would be difficult for the company to convert its ships to ULSD, as the company was already running at a loss.

“The price of oil has already doubled over the past year, and it will become an even bigger burden if we switch to ULSD,” she said.

A spokesman for Star Ferry said that the company used around 2.5 million litres of light diesel a year.

Converting to ULSD could add $5 million to its fuel bill, which might increase pressure for a fare rise, the spokesman added.

Why Quality Matters

Published in the SCMP on the 15th of December 2004:

URBAN PLANNING Christian Masset

Why quality matters

At last month’s Apec meeting in Chile, President Hu Jintao emphasised that Hong Kong’s government “should give priority to the development of the city to ensure that its citizens enjoy concrete benefits … improving the livelihood of the Hong Kong people”.

This declaration leaves us wondering about the meaning of “development”, since Hong Kong already has Asia’s second-highest gross domestic product per capita, after Japan. Does “development” mean the need to build infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, container terminals and housing? Or is it about meeting a specific need and ensuring its viability in the long term, something which I will call “quality development”?

Hong Kong’s situation can be viewed as a paradox; we are in the position of having world-class infrastructure, yet, during the past two years, we have adopted several poorly justified and widely contested projects which threaten our quality of life and competitiveness. These include the Central-Wan Chai reclamation; the mega hotel in Wan Chai, masking nearby hills; the West Kowloon cultural hub; and the Zhuhai bridge.

All these projects reflect the poor quality planning behind them. They translate into aggravated air and noise pollution, a reduction of the natural footprint of this remarkable area, and high financial costs to the people and the government of Hong Kong. Now is the time for Hong Kong to adopt a new intention – to accept only “quality development”. Clear The Air proposes that this should rest on three basic approaches.

First, abandon the cheap, shortsighted and non-transparent processes. This means opting for the challenging, creative and long-lasting – a worthy prospect for a world city. Applications of this thinking range from energy-efficient architecture to the adoption of rail and other low- or nonpolluting modes of urban transport, and the design of pedestrian-friendly urban areas – while at the same time preserving the existing natural surroundings.

Second, Hong Kong must reflect on issues such as: how to drastically reduce domestic waste by recycling all goods and packaging; and how to develop and implement innovative services and methodologies in education and training.

Third, a focus on “quality development” would make Hong Kong a world-class laboratory of “innovative urbanism”, resulting in cash-rich opportunities for enlightened entrepreneurs.

Hong Kong is never short of ideas; we must let them blossom. Good environmental policy is identical to good economic policy. Archaic thinking, seen in the calls for more infrastructure projects to provide work for engineers, suggests that a viable and fair development policy is badly needed.

The tendency of developers to label environmental groups “antibusiness” reflects the paradox of these times; poorly devised processes and natural destruction of the environment are themselves anti-business, since they result in the depletion of two of our most valuable assets – land and the natural environment. Without these, there is no chance to demonstrate quality of life, which, if it is good, will attract quality people.

If Hong Kong is serious in its claim to be a knowledge-based society, we ought to look to other places – such as California or Japan, for example – with well-protected natural resources. They attract highend businesses, quality research, and are vibrant places that foster development.

To set a new course, let us walk away from a pollution-based mentality which offers an illusion of a prosperous economy. Hong Kong needs economic growth based on “quality development”. Only then will President Hu’s wish materialise and benefit the Pearl River Delta and the people of Hong Kong.

Christian Masset is chairman of Hong Kong-based green group Clear the Air

MYTH: Air pollution causes asthma, however …

By Bryan Walsh – Time Asia – December 13, 2004

FACT: There are no concrete studies that directly link asthma to air pollution. The asthma rate in heavily polluted Beijing is actually lower than the rate in Hong Kong, which is itself lower than in many cleaner cities. But asthmatics who move to polluted cities do find themselves at greater risk. “There’s no question that once you have asthma, you’re more vulnerable to air pollution,” says Dr. Anthony Hedley of the University of Hong Kong.