China counters rising risk of oil spills

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China is striving to improve its ability to handle oil spills at sea and has established a fund to compensate the victims of such incidents, the Ministry of Transport said on Tuesday.

"Given that the number of construction projects at sea is rising annually, and that our country has become more reliant on oil and chemical products transported via ships, we're facing a great risk of spills," Li Shixin, deputy director of the ministry's Maritime Safety Administration, said at a news conference in Beijing.

"In response, the central government has decided to build more than 30 oil spill response stores by the end of 2016.”

Fourteen facilities have already been completed, while another three are under construction, he said, adding that each store will have oil disposal equipment such as fences and barrels of sorbent and dispersant.

The administration is making plans for other stores and has requested companies involved in major construction projects at sea allocate a set amount of money for resources needed to handle spills.

Workers at 137 government units, social organizations and companies have received training and are able to conduct cleanup and recovery operations.

Oil tankers and ships of more than 1,000 metric tons in China have all bought compulsory civil liability insurance for oil leaks, while the ministry has also set up a fund of almost 150 million yuan ($24.7 million) to compensate victims of oil spills, Li said.

Authorities began to pay close attention to oil spills in 2011, when an oilfield in Bohai Sea polluted more than 6,200 square kilometers of water — about nine times the size of Singapore — and led to significant losses for the tourism and aquatic farming industries in Liaoning and Hebei provinces.

On Nov 22, an explosion at a section of Sinopec's underground pipeline in Qingdao, Shandong province, killed 62 people and contaminated 3,000 square meters of Jiaozhou Bay, affecting aquatic life such as crabs, clams and shrimp.

The incident spurred the public to ask whether China is ready for large oil spills.

Zhuo Li of the ministry's China Maritime Rescue Coordination Center said his team is cooperating with government departments to draft an emergency response plan for spills at sea, to be published in 2014.

The center organized a drill off the coast of Qinzhou in the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in September, simulating a collision between a 20,000-ton oil tanker and a 3,000-ton cargo ship.

More than 300 people, 38 vessels and two aircraft took part in this largest exercise of its kind in China, Zhuo said.

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