Hong Kong’s anti-corruption agency has arrested 21 employees of a government contractor accused of faking concrete test reports for the multibillion-dollar bridge that will link the city to Zhuhai and Macau, raising serious safety concerns.
The government said it was investigating whether there were any safety implications for the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, while an expert warned that it might even have to be rebuilt in the worst-case scenario.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Tuesday revealed that the operation codenamed “Greenfield” was launched a week ago, netting two senior executives, two senior site laboratory technicians, 12 site laboratory technicians and five laboratory assistants employed by the contractor for the Civil Engineering and Development Department (CEDD).
They were released on bail pending further inquiries.
Development minister Eric Ma Siu-cheung pledged that the government would examine the safety of the bridge construction.
“If the situation is not that serious, reviewing the existing construction is already enough. Otherwise we will take serious measures and follow up actions,” he said.
A government spokesman said on Tuesday night that the Highways Department had instructed workers last week to immediately conduct non-destructive concrete strength tests on three main projects – the boundary crossing facilities, the Hong Kong link road and the tunnel being built from Chek Lap Kok to Tuen Mun.
Tests so far have found nothing abnormal, although they are continuing.
The department will also recruit an independent professional body to help conduct tests in the coming weeks on crucial parts of the three projects, including the bridge body and the tunnel.
The civil engineering department has been working with the contractor since January 2013 to conduct compression tests on concrete samples for the bridge. All concrete samples were required to pass the tests within a set period of time.
“It was revealed that when some of the tests were not conducted within the set time frame in compliance with the contract requirements, the site laboratory technicians and laboratory assistants might have adjusted the times on the testing machines to cover up the irregularities,” the ICAC said on Tuesday.
The ICAC further alleged that some laboratory staff might have replaced the concrete samples to falsify the tests, and suspected the offences might have started in early 2015.
“ICAC inquiries [also] revealed that the two senior site laboratory technicians had certified the false test reports. It was suspected that they might have corruptly connived at the submission of the false reports to the CEDD,” the graft buster said.
The contractor said it had conducted an internal investigation after the department found irregularities in the test reports, but failed to disclose that staff might have used a metal calibration cylinder and high-strength concrete cubes to make it look like the tests had been conducted properly, according to the ICAC.
Greg Wong Chak-yan, a former president of the Institution of Engineers, said whether safety had been compromised would depend on the quality of the concrete, and where and how much of it was used on the bridge.
“If the concrete is far below standard and is used in one-third or two-thirds of the supporting pillars or bridge columns, of course it would pose safety risk and the government needs to take extra time to replace them,” Wong said.
“That would be the worst thing that could happen. Otherwise simple measures could be taken in remediation.”
Work on the Hong Kong part of the bridge, costing more than HK$110 billion, began in 2011 and was delayed for a year to the end of this year amid a string of construction obstacles.
Ten workers have died and more than 600 have been injured while building the bridge, in a total of 275 incidents.