By Tan Ee Lyn
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Chinese oil giant Sinopec promised on Thursday to help clean up a big spill of tiny plastic pellets in Hong Kong waters which have washed onto many beaches and begun killing fish in fish farms.
Making their first media appearance 17 days after the spillage, Sinopec executives said the cargo belonged to the company and it had set aside HK$10 million (US$1.28 million) for the clean-up, and would spend more if necessary.
"We want to clean up the pellets that are still at large and find the sixth container," Lu Dapeng, a spokesman for Sinopec, told reporters.
The six containers fell off a freighter on July 23 during Hong Kong's worst typhoon in 13 years, spilling 150-tonnes of pellets into the sea. One container is missing.
The Hong Kong government has assured citizens that the white, polypropylene beads are inert and non-toxic in themselves but environmentalists say they can absorb pollutants and poison the food chain.
Volunteers are trying to clear up the beads, which are used in making plastic, from beaches but only a fraction of them has been collected.
Lu said Sinopec would deploy industrial vacuum cleaners to hasten the clean-up.
Hong Kong's top civil servant, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, said on Wednesday the government would bring to book those responsible.
"Let me stress here that we will definitely be persistent in pursuing those liable," Lam said after a visit to a fish farm where fish have died, apparently after consuming the pellets.
Fish at a growing number of fish farms have begun dying, operators say.
"The fish are not eating, and they are getting thinner and they will die slowly," said legislator Wong Yung-kan, who represents the agriculture and fisheries industry.
"We are already seeing the impact in a number of fish farms. We will see more fish deaths."
(Editing by Robert Birsel)