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China to host maritime drill with ASEAN
By Cao Desheng (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-06-15 23:37

China is to host a maritime security exercise in the East China Sea next month, sources from the Maritime Safety Administration said yesterday.

"The exercise, to be held on July 7, will focus on assistance and salvage in maritime accidents, anti-terrorism operations at sea and disposal of oil leaks in possible vessel collisions," said Qiu Ming, a press official from the maritime safety authority.

More than 40 vessels and four maritime helicopters are expected to participate, as will Japanese and South Korean vessels, Qiu said.

Maritime exercises are held every year, but this year's manoeuvre will be the "largest one of its kind," according to Qiu.

Officials from the International Maritime Organization and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will be invited to observe as the nation works to consolidate maritime transport co-operation with international communities.

"The exercise is also part of the partnership between China and ASEAN members in maritime transport," Qiu said.

Both sides agreed last November to further strengthen the alliance in construction of transport infrastructure, transport facilitation and maritime safety and security.

"Aiming at improving the efficiency of marine rescue forces, the exercise will help intensify the regional partnership in the field to ensure maritime safety and security," Qiu said.

Currently, China has around 2,000 professional maritime rescue and salvage workers, but commercial and fishing vessels are also an important part of the search and salvage force.

With the increase in oil transport at sea each year, the risk of maritime accidents grows accordingly.

On April 4, a Portuguese oil tanker carrying about 120,000 tons of crude oil from Yemen struck a rock and became stranded off Dalian Port in Northeast China's Liaoning Province.

Thanks to the immediate response of the local maritime safety bureau, the Portugal-registered Arteaga, a 273.4-metre-long, 43.2-metre-wide crude oil tanker, was helped out of trouble and caused no serious pollution.

According to official statistics, more than 100 million tons of crude oil are transported by sea every year, and more than 200 oil tankers travel the nation's sea areas every day.

"China is planning to set up a compensation fund to guarantee that the cost of cleaning up possible oil leaks from vessel collision accidents will be paid," Qiu said.

An international forum will be held in Shanghai two days before the exercise, when government officials and experts will discuss where the fund should come from and how to allocate the money, he said.

According to international practice, ship owners and the consignor of the cargo should pay for any possible marine pollution resulting from oil leakages.

Currently, the nation lacks a mechanism to deal with compensation in the event of an oil leak.

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