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Increased shipping brings oil pollution
By Cao Desheng (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-07-06 05:52

SHANGHAI: Increased shipping, spurred by the country's expanding economy, is creating unprecedented levels of pollution, a situation China's Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) is working to remedy.

A boy stands next to the Great Canal at a waterfront park in Zhenjiang, East China's Jiangsu Province, June 9, 2005. [newsphoto]
Speaking yesterday, Liu Gongchen, deputy director-general of MSA, said his administration is working to establish a compensation regime for oil pollution from ships to guarantee financial support for cleanup operations and compensation for the victims of oil leaks.

"While promoting compulsory insurance against oil pollution from ships, the administration plans to set up a fund by levying a charge on ship owners and cargo consignors as they should take responsibility for oil pollution and compensating the victims of oil spills," Liu said in a keynote speech at the International Maritime Forum in Shanghai, which closes today.

He said the oil pollution fund is to be set up as soon as the draft of the legal document is put forward for approval by the State Council.

The risk of oil pollution in the nation's sea areas is increasing as the shipping economy expands. However, at the moment, the economic burden of dealing with oil spills always falls on the government.

Statistics from the Ministry of Communications indicate that cargo transported by sea reached around 1.8 billion tons last year, and the throughput in ports across the country amounted to 4.17 billion tons including 61.8 million TEUs, one-eighth of the world's total containers.

At least 90 per cent of the nation's imported crude oil is transported by sea, with the figure last year reaching up to 110 million tons, statistics show.

Coupled with the surge in marine transport is a growth in the number of oil spills. Between 1973 and 2003, more than 2,350 oil spills occurred along the nation's coast one spill every 4.6 days.

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

Just three days ago, a Chinese oil tanker collided with a Malaysian-registered 9,000-ton ship at Dalian Port while carrying 3,800 tons of diesel to Guangzhou in South China's Guangdong Province, causing an oil spill.

"Once there is an oil spill, efforts then have to be made to contain the damage and minimize the impact to the environment, usually a very costly operation," said Dr S Y Tsui, director of the Marine Department of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Last December, two container ships from Panama and the Yemen collided off the estuary of the Pear River, just south of Hong Kong, leading to the leakage of 1,200 tons of oil into the sea. The cost of emergency response to the accident ran to 120 million yuan (US$14.5 million).

Although China is party to the International Fund Convention on oil pollution, it is only applicable to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Therefore, oil pollution damage cannot be covered by the Fund elsewhere in China.

According to Liu, the right time for China to fully join the Fund Convention is yet to come, while the domestic compensation fund is more practicable.

"We are ready to make preparations for the accession to the Convention by way of the experiences gained from the management and operation of our own fund," he added.

To improve the efficiency of marine rescue forces in responding to oil spills and in anti-terrorism operations, China is to host a large-scale maritime drill in Shanghai's Yangshan port tomorrow. Japanese and Korean vessels will also join the exercise.

(China Daily 07/06/2005 page2)

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