Aircraft, ships and more than 500 people from the two countries took part in the drill of the coast of Qingdao, the home of the sailing events at last month’s Beijing Games.

According to state-owned media, China has called for closer cooperation with its neighbours – including Japan and Russia – to protect the marine environment on the Pacific coast from oil spills.

Officials said the region was increasingly at risk from spills as a result of the growing level of oil imports.

Zhong Xiaodong, deputy coordinator of the Northwest Pacific Action Plan (NOWPAP) – part of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Regional Sea Programme – told the state-owned China Daily newspaper: “The Northwest Pacific region is currently one of the seas with the highest risk of oil spills.

“This is because China is now one of the world’s top oil importers, while Japan and South Korea are also major importers.”

An average of 400 oil tankers now sail to and from China every day. According to the Ministry of Transport, 320m tons of crude oil were unloaded at the country’s coastal harbours last year.

In December, the risk of major oil spills in the region was highlighted when more than 15,000 tons of crude oil leaked into the sea off the coast of South Korea after a barge collided with the Hong Kong-registered oil tanker Hebei Spirit (see related story).

This week’s drill created a scenario far less severe than the reality of eight months ago.

Emergency services had to respond to an imaginary incident where just 1,000 tonnes of oil were spilled after an out-of-control vessel collided with an anchored oil tanker.

The drill is the second NOWPAP joint spill exercise since its creation in 1994. The first was held off the Russian coast in 2006 and was jointly organised by Russia and Japan.

Kate Martin

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