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Philippine, Indonesian, Japanese coast guards hold pollution exercise

This file photo shows a Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel, taken in January 2016. (Kyodo)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines (Kyodo) -- The coast guards of Philippines, Indonesia and Japan began Tuesday a joint exercise to address marine pollution, especially that caused by oil spills.

    Seventeen ships with more than 700 personnel are taking part in the four-day Regional Maritime Pollution Exercise, or Marpolex, in the southern Philippine city of Davao and nearby waters.

    The biennial exercise, which was last held in Bali, Indonesia, in May 2017, was launched in 1986 with Indonesia and the Philippines as the initial participants. Japan has joined since 1995.

    The event's highlight will be an exercise Wednesday "to simulate firefighting, and search and rescue operations, aside from oil spill response and containment," the Philippine Coast Guard said.

    Its commandant Elson Hermogino said in a speech at Tuesday's opening program that when massive amounts of oil are leaked into waterways, time is of the essence if a disaster is to be averted.

    "As experience has taught us, these incidents call for brief, efficient and coordinated response operations," he said.

    According to a briefing document, more than 30 percent of global maritime crude oil trade, or about 15 million barrels per day, passes through the South China Sea, posing a high "risk of catastrophic damage to the marine environment due to oil pollution."

    Ahmad Husein, director of the Indonesian Sea and Coast Guard, called the exercise "proof to the global world and our community that we care, participate and share the responsibility of maintaining and enhancing the protection of the marine environment."

    The activity will test the effectiveness of the ASEAN Regional Oil Spill Contingency Plan, adopted by transport ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations last November, under which member states can request and provide mutual support, as well as of the Sulu Sulawesi Oil Spill Response Network Plan forged between Indonesia and the Philippines in 1981.

    Representatives from the coast guards of China, Sri Lanka and Vietnam, as well as of the U.S. Navy have been invited as exercise observers.

    "We have to have collaboration with other countries, especially the neighboring countries so that they can bring in their resources to address such an oil spill, if ever such an incident will happen," said George Ursabia of the Philippine Coast Guard who acts as Philippine exercise co-director.

    "So, yes, we are looking forward that other countries which are observers for now, will become active participants in this Marpolex," he said.

    Takahiro Okushima, vice commandant for operations of the Japan Coast Guard, expressed hope that the "cooperative relationship of the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan will deepen" through this week's drills and future activities.

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