MTR, the company that builds and runs Hong Kong’s rail systems, has admitted to excavating a site in the densely populated Wan Chai district without first checking for unexploded bombs.
Last week, two 450kg devices were discovered 10m apart, leading to the evacuation of 5,000 people and "dirty, difficult and dangerous" bomb disposal operations.
The company relied only on a visual inspection because there was too much metal in the ground to make electronic detectors useful, Philco Wong, MTR’s projects director, told the Legislative Council’s subcommittee on railways.
He added that it was likely that further bombs would be discovered, and detectors would be used from now on.
The operations to disarm the two bombs took 26 and 24 hours, respectively. The job was made more difficult by mud and rain on the Sha Tin-Central rail link site, and the corrosion of the devices.
Although the area was reclaimed from the sea after the Second World War, it had been heavily bombed by the US air force between 1942 and 1945.
Wong said MTR was aware of the likelihood of encountering unexploded munitions when construction on the site began in 2016, but was acting according to "police expert opinions".
"Our workers used very light equipment to slowly dig up the area with experienced staff monitoring their work," he said.
The aim was to avoid hitting the a bomb’s detonators, located at their nose and tail.
So far, only half of the site has been dug up, so workers are likely to find other bombs in the remainder. However, he said this would not delay construction work.
Cheng Chung-tai, a representative of the Civic Passion party, said MTR had put workers at risk by failing to carry out a thorough inspection of the site.
"Why would you only rely on workers’ visual inspection and excavation to discern any dangerous objects?" he asked.
Claudia Mo Man-ching, a Civic Party legislator, commented: "Workers are not bomb experts and you expect them to find hidden bombs? How can you be accountable to the people living and working in that area?"
The South China Morning Post has a video of the operations here.
Image: The Wan Chai district is on the northern coast of Hong Kong Island (Wing/Creative Commons)