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China holds first int'l drill to curb marine pollution
By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2008-09-03 07:00

QINGDAO: China has called for closer co-operation with its neighbors to protect the marine environment from the growing risk of oil spills due to booming transportation of the resource.

The call came Tuesday as the country held its first international drill against oil spills with South Korea.

The joint drill off the coast of Qingdao involved more than 500 people, one helicopter, one fixed-wing aircraft and 29 vessels - including two from South Korea.

Zhong Xiaodong, deputy coordinator of the Northwest Pacific Action Plan under the United Nations Environment Program's Regional Sea Program, said China, Japan, South Korea and Russia should step up cooperation to curb marine pollution caused by oil spills.

"The Northwest Pacific region is currently one of the seas with the highest risk of oil spills," he told China Daily.

"This is because China is now one of the world's top oil importers, while Japan and South Korea are also major importers," he said.

Currently, oil is mostly transported by ship. An average of 400 oil tankers sail to and from China every day. Last year, 320 million tons of crude oil were unloaded at coastal harbors, according to the Ministry of Transport.

The growing shipping industry has increased the likelihood of maritime accidents and oil spills, said Liu Gongcheng, executive deputy director of China Maritime Safety Administration of the Ministry of Transport.

Between 1973 and 2007, China's coastal areas witnessed 79 accidents involving the spillage of at least 50 tons of oil.

To tackle this problem, China has enhanced both the management of its shipping industry and its ability to deal with oil spills. The nation currently has the capability to clean up around 500 tons of leaked oil in a limited period of time, he said.

But China still lags behind developed countries in its maritime firefighting capability and needs more oil cleaning equipment, according to Zhai Jiugang, director-general of China Maritime Search and Rescue Center.

"Regional cooperation should be the future trend of developing an oil spill emergency response system," said Lee Bong-gil, head of South Korea's coast guard maritime pollution bureau.

South Korea faced the most serious oil spill in its history last year, as more than 15,000 tons of crude oil leaked into the sea from the Hong Kong-registered oil tanker Hebei Spirit, whose tank was hit by a barge's crane outside a South Korean port on Dec 7.

China immediately sent more than 50 tons of cleaning equipment and 27 professionals to South Korea, after receiving a request for assistance.