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LCQ1: Government Explosives Depots

     Following is a question by the Hon Patrick Lau Sau-shing and a reply by the Secretary for Development, Mrs Carrie Lam, in the Legislative Council today (December 1):


     At present, there are only two Government Explosives Depots in Hong Kong, which are respectively located at Kau Shat Wan on Lantau Island and Sha Tin Heights in Kowloon, and as vehicles carrying explosives are prohibited from entering cross harbour tunnels, explosives required for the works projects on Hong Kong Island are mainly delivered by sea transport from Lantau Island.  At the same time, shipping of explosives is prohibited between the hours of sunset and sunrise under the existing legislation.  As such, if blasting has to be carried out for a works project twice a day during morning and evening hours, a temporary explosives magazine has to be built close to the construction site.  Given the above reasons, the MTR Corporation Limited has proposed to build a temporary explosives magazine at Chung Hom Kok in Stanley for the construction of the South Island Line, but the local community has objected strongly to such a proposal because the site selected for the cross-district magazine is not near the construction site but only 300 metres from residential areas and adjacent to the workstations of telecommunications facilities, coupled with the added danger of transporting explosives through the narrow roads, sharp bends and steep slopes of the vehicular routes in the Stanley area, thus threatening the safety of residents and workers in the vicinity.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) of the respective numbers, locations and capacities of the temporary explosives magazines which were built and will be built in Hong Kong at present, as well as their shortest distance from nearby buildings or leisure and recreational facilities, with a breakdown by District Council district;

(b) given that when the relevant legislation was being enacted, the authorities prohibited the conveyance of explosives by sea transport between the hours of sunset and sunrise, having regard to the dangerous nature of explosives, but I have learnt that the safety of the explosives currently supplied by the Government for blasting works has been greatly improved, whether the authorities will amend the relevant legislation to extend the operating hours of Government Explosive Depots, and permit the conveyance of explosives by sea transport between the hours of sunset and sunrise, so as to avoid the need to construct temporary explosives magazines in urban areas which are close to residents; and

(c) whether the authorities will expeditiously amend the Dangerous Goods Ordinance and related legislation to stipulate that explosives shall be delivered directly to construction sites at specific time so as to remove the threat to public safety posed by the setting up of temporary cross-district explosives magazines in various places in the urban area, thereby gaining public support for the 10 major infrastructural projects so that they can be taken forward smoothly?



     My reply to the three parts of the question is as follows:

(a) At present, there are two Government Explosives Depots in Hong Kong, which are respectively located at Kau Shat Wan on Lantau Island and Sha Tin Heights in Kowloon.  The capacity of Kau Shat Wan Government Explosives Depot is about 500 tonnes.  Located on an outlying island, it is not accessible by land.  Explosives must be delivered by marine transport, that is, vessels.  The explosives depot at Sha Tin Heights is situated next to Tai Po Road.  It operates on a smaller scale with a capacity of less than 3 tonnes.

     Apart from the above two government owned explosives depots, implementation agents of individual major works projects will apply for construction of temporary explosives magazines to meet the operational needs of the projects.  These temporary explosives magazines are owned by the implementation agents of individual major works projects and supervised by the Government.  At present, there is one temporary explosives magazine in operation at Victoria Road on Hong Kong Island.  Two more are under construction at So Kwun Wat in Tuen Mun and Tai Shu Ha in Yuen Long respectively.

     In addition, there are three proposed temporary explosives magazines.  One is proposed for Chung Hom Shan on Hong Kong Island and the remaining two for Tseung Kwan O Area 137.  Each temporary explosives magazine is proposed to cater for a specific major works project.

     Details of the above temporary explosives magazines, including the relevant works projects, storage capacity for explosives and the shortest distance from the nearby facilities are set out in the Annex.

(b) Section 3(2) of the Dangerous Goods (Government Explosives Depots) Regulations provides that no person shall cause or permit any explosives to be received into or removed from a depot between the hours of sunset and sunrise without the permission of the Commissioner of Mines, that is, Director of Civil Engineering and Development.  Section 17(1)(d) of the Dangerous Goods (Shipping) Regulations provides that no locally licensed vessels while conveying any explosives may be underway in the Victoria Harbour between the hours of sunset and sunrise without the permission of the Director of Marine.  The above restrictions are imposed in light of the safety problems involved in delivering explosives at night.

    It is not necessary to amend the existing legislation since the heads of departments concerned are empowered under current legislation to grant approval as necessary in individual cases for moving explosives in and out of the depots and delivery by marine transport before the hours of sunrise or after the hours of sunset.  That said, in exercising their discretion, the department heads concerned need to assess whether the level of risk is acceptable and in line with the principles of good risk management.  They have to consider relevant factors carefully, such as the risk of conveying explosives at night, the quantity and class of explosives, land and marine transport routes, the location of the pier for loading and unloading the explosives, the time and frequency of delivery, the risks involved as compared with other feasible options, as well as the advice of international experts.  The Marine Department has pointed out that their main concern is the additional risk of vessel operations at night.  Although the Director of Marine may approve such activity, approval will be granted for individual trips under very special and exceptional circumstances only.

(c) As mentioned above, the existing legislation permits direct delivery of explosives to the construction sites for blasting.  Therefore, it is not necessary to amend the Dangerous Goods Ordinance and related legislation.  Such an arrangement was adopted for previous works projects where blasting was required only once per day (that is, in the afternoon).  For individual works projects where more than one blasting was required per day, temporary explosives magazines were built in the vicinity to reduce effectively the frequency of long-distance delivery of explosives to the construction sites from the Government Explosives Depot at Kau Shat Wan, therefore lowering the overall risks in delivery.  An international explosives expert employed by the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD) also agrees that the provision of temporary explosives magazines is a more appropriate arrangement conducive to effective overall risk management.  Moreover, temporary explosives magazines can be put to contingency use for storing explosives which cannot be blasted on the same day they are delivered to the construction sites owing to unexpected circumstances, or those which cannot be blasted as scheduled because of delay in blasting preparatory work at construction sites.

     I appreciate the public's general concern about explosives depots as expressed in Professor Hon Patrick Lau Sau-shing's question.  However, I must point out that the construction and operation of a temporary explosives magazine are subject to stringent vetting and approval procedures.  The applicant must conduct the environmental impact and risk assessments under the Environmental Impact Assessment Ordinance to ensure effectively the safety in building and operating the temporary explosives magazine.  Furthermore, the location and storage capacity of explosives magazines must meet the safety clearance requirements under the Manufacture and Storage of Explosives Regulations enacted by the UK Health and Safety Executive in 2005.  Our records show that no safety incidents occurred in such facilities over the past decades.

     As for the proposal of requiring explosives to be delivered directly to construction sites at specified time, it should be noted that the blasting process, frequency and schedule vary among different projects to meet their specific needs.  If explosives need to be delivered directly from Kau Shat Wan to the construction sites every time when blasting is carried out so as to tie in with the blasting works at different construction sites at different times, it will greatly increase the number of long-distance trips of delivering the explosives and affect the implementation and progress of the works.

     To minimise long and indirect trips in transporting explosives and the demand for temporary explosives magazines, the CEDD and the implementation agents of major works projects have been searching over the past two years for a site along the coastline of Hong Kong Island that is suitable for use as a pier for loading/unloading explosives.  The identified site must meet relevant technical requirements and should be acceptable to the local community.  The CEDD and other departments concerned will continue to identify a suitable site for a pier for loading/unloading explosives that is acceptable to the local community, so that various major infrastructure projects can be taken forward smoothly.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Issued at HKT 17:02


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