Cheung Chi-fai and Anita Lam – SCMP
The extra cost of using cleaner diesel in Hong Kong’s ferries is likely to be much less than ferry operators have claimed, the environment watchdog says.
Ultra-low-sulphur marine diesel, which went on trial in five ferries yesterday, would cost about 60 HK cents a litre more than conventional diesel, not up to HK$3 as the companies had estimated, the Environmental Protection Department said.
But one of the operators said the cleaner fuel would still push up its operating costs by 10 per cent, increasing pressure for a fare rise.
A department spokesman said clean diesel now cost HK$4.50 a litre, compared with HK$3.90 for conventional marine diesel, subject to oil-price fluctuations.
Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry said that price difference would lead to a 10 per cent rise in operating costs if all its vessels used the fuel.
“The additional cost would erode our meagre profit and increase pressure for a fare rise,” general manager Nelson Ng Siu-yuen said.
Launching the nine-month trial of the cleaner fuel yesterday, the Environmental Protection Department said it would pay up to HK$10 million in incentives for ferry operators to take part. The money was for fuel subsidies and technical monitoring. The trial would provide data on operating costs, and the impact on maintenance and technical performance to help officials decide whether all ferries should use cleaner fuel.
The fuel, 100 times lower in sulphur, will be supplied to five selected ferries by an oil barge operated by Sinopec (SEHK: 0386) in Cheung Sha Wan.
These are New World First Ferry’s Xin Hui III and VIII between Central and Cheung Chau and Xin Ying running from Central to Mui Wo; Hong Kong & Kowloon Ferry’s Hoi Ming connecting Central and Peng Chau; and a Hong Kong and Yaumati Ferry car-carrier between Kwun Tong and North Point.
The Star Ferry did not join the trial, saying its own trial of cleaner diesel in 2006 resulted in loss of power, higher fuel consumption, and engine corrosion. “We will still keep track of the trial results of other ferry operators,” general manager Johnny Leung Tak-hing said.
The department spokesman said there had been no mechanical problems for government vessels since they started using the cleaner fuel in 2000. He said there were other solutions to resolve the operators’ worries about the lubricating effect of sulphur in the engines.
The spokesman said that if all local passenger ferries switched to the cleaner fuel, the total sulphur emissions from the marine sector could be cut by about 12.5 per cent. Other sulphur emissions come from domestic vessels such as barges and fishing boats, as well as ocean-going vessels and cross-border ferries.
The Marine Department said four local vessel operators were convicted for black-smoke emissions last year, compared with none in 2007