DAVAO GULF, PHILIPPINES – The coast guards of Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines took part in a mock oil spill exercise in southern Philippine waters on Wednesday.
The drill was part of the four-day Regional Maritime Pollution Exercise that kicked off Tuesday to address such pollution, especially that caused by oil spills.
Teams from the three countries responded to a mock collision between a passenger vessel and a tanker in the Davao Gulf in which 1 million liters of oil was assumed to have been spilled.
According to the scenario Philippine and Indonesian coast guard vessels jointly put out a fire that was assumed to have engulfed the distressed passenger vessel, and 10 passengers who jumped overboard were rescued.
In less than three hours, the search and rescue, firefighting and oil spill response and containment objectives of the three countries were completed.
Around 750 personnel and 16 vessels, including a Tsugaru-class patrol vessel belonging to the Japan Coast Guard based out of Hakodate, Hokkaido, took part.
Takahiro Okushima, vice commandant for operations of the Japan Coast Guard, said the three nations were able to communicate well with each other, which he said is “very vital in this operation.”
Elson Hermogino, commandant of the Philippine Coast Guard, told reporters, “I believe there’s no country that alone can easily address a massive oil spill. We need the assistance of neighboring countries.”
“And it’s not just on assets, but also on technical advice,” he added, noting Indonesia is already equipped with firefighting and marine pollution vessels, and aside from its more advanced equipment, Japan can also be counted on for technical advice.
The biennial exercise was first launched in 1986 with Indonesia and the Philippines as initial participants. Japan became an active participant starting in 1995.
A briefing document cites that 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.”
Coast guard officials from China, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, as well as from the U.S. Embassy in Manila, observed Wednesday’s exercise.
Stakeholders from the private sector were also present, including Singapore-based representatives of Oil Spill Response Ltd., an industry-owned and funded cooperative.
The cooperative’s Tawirat Bates expressed satisfaction with what he observed, saying, “The equipment they used is good, and the way they deployed them is correct.
“I would say that there’s cooperation among the three countries, and doing (it) exactly like that could be able to contain a potential oil spill,” Bates said.