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September 5, 2009

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Massive maritime exercise tests rescues, World Expo security

CHINA'S maritime rescue services yesterday staged their biggest exercise ever to test their life-saving capabilities and security for the 2010 Shanghai World Expo.

The East China Sea drill, a joint effort by the Ministry of Transport and east China's Zhejiang Province, involved 35 ships, three aircraft and more than 1,000 people, said He Yipei, deputy director of the Zhejiang Maritime Safety Administration.

The drill simulated a collision between a passenger ship carrying 390 people and a cargo vessel loaded with chemicals, resulting in a fire on the passenger ship and a benzene leak.

Under the scenario, rescuers transferred the people in danger, treated those overcome by fumes, controlled the chemical leak, searched for people in the water, put out the fire and evacuated 16,000 people living along the coast in the area of the exercise.

Only one passenger "died" in the mock accident.

"The exercise was successful," said Xu Zuyuan, vice minister of transport and director of the China Maritime Search and Rescue Center.

"It displayed the achievements of China's maritime rescue services over the past six decades, tested their rescue capabilities and helped improve their rescue skills."

He said the exercise also tested the country's maritime security for the Shanghai World Expo, which is expected to attract 70 million visitors from May 1 to October 31, 2010.

The exercise site was at Fodu harbor, at Ningbo-Zhoushan Port.

"It is not only one of the busiest navigation channels in the world but also an area that sees frequent maritime accidents and chemical leaks. That is why we choose this area," Xu said.

Last year, the Ningbo-Zhoushan Port ranked second in the world in terms of cargo throughput, handling 521 million tons, and eighth in container throughput, at 10.923 million units.

Local maritime rescue services handled 85 accidents off the coast of Zhejiang in the first half of the year and saved 1,153 people, while nearly 60 people died or went missing, officials said.

In addition to government rescue services, non-governmental forces also participated in yesterday's exercise.

"That conforms to the actual situation in China's maritime rescues, as most of the people involved in sea accidents are saved through non-government forces," Liu said.

He said there are many small privately owned boats in China and they help greatly in rescue operations.

"Their sailors are familiar with local conditions, and they can arrive at the site quickly if an accident happens," he said.


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