Councillors slam govt over barge fire reporting delay

A group of pro-democracy district councillors on Sunday criticised government departments for lacking coordination when heavy smoke caused by a burning barge engulfed West Kowloon last week.

The fire broke out on the vessel near Stonecutters Island on Wednesday evening and was finally put out about 15 hours later.

Residents in several districts along the coastline reported feeling unwell, and the smoke also triggered fire alarms at a number of buildings.

However, it was not until several hours after the fire started that the Fire Services Department warned residents about the smoke, and advised them to close their doors and windows.

Kwai Tsing district councillor Cheung Man-lung said the Environmental Protection Department could have taken a more proactive role in informing the public about the worsening air quality, rather than just updating the data on its website.

Owan Li from the Yau Tsim Mong district council, meanwhile, said the Home Affairs Department could’ve done a lot more to keep people informed

“We find that the government’s response was very slow and was not immediate to alert the general public that they should be careful and aware that of any potential health problem,” he said.

“We think it’s important that the government improves the mechanism of announcing disaster(s). The Home Affairs Department should take a more important role, for example, by keeping a clear communication channel through press releases.”

They said they will follow up on the matter at upcoming district council meetings.