Protecting the ASEAN Sea

Takao Hirao
The Nippon Foundation

10 Officers from 5 countries visit Japan for Training

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At our current level of technology, we can expect no end to marine accidents that damage the environment by exposing it to spilled oil and other toxic materials. One of the best things we can do is to develop maritime nations' ability to deal with spills as they happen. To this end, officers from ASEAN nations visited Japan this past January to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to deal those accidents. Most of the officers taking part are on the staff that actually go to the site when an accident happens. So the five days of training in basic scientific knowledge and the use of protective suits was filled with serious, experience-based questions.

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Two officers took part from each of the countries of Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. The training program was lead by the Japan Association of Marine Safety (JAMS).

The program, supported by The Nippon Foundation, is part of a general drive to cultivate specialists in Asian nations, like those belonging to the Japan Coast Guard (JCG)'s accident taskforce. This task force, established in 1995 is the prime agency on the scene when accidents happen. As a part of the training program, participants listened to lectures by a member of the taskforce and visited the top manufacturer of emergency supplies. The program was conducted on the JCG base in Yokohama.

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Katsuyuki Fujimura, the captain of the task force, gave lectures on how to measure the temperature using gas detectors and infrared beams, as well as how materials like acetic acid or ammonia spread on seawater. Questions from the trainees included such difficult topics as, “How do you remove materials that are heavier than water?” “How do you remove materials from deep in the sea?”“How often must you replace equipment?” and “What is the cost?” Their questions revealed both their experience and their passion for their work.

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Captain Fujimura said, “The questions they asked me were more real than I’ve gotten in other lectures. And they were enthusiastic when I asked for volunteers.”

The Straits of Malacca are an important sea route connecting East Asia with the Middle East and Europe. The Straits are famous not only for piracy, but for their treacherous currents and coastlines. Thirty-four ships have sunk there since the 1880s. There were 220 piracy incidents in 2000, and more than 150 in 2003. Numbers like these would be cause enough for the students to take their training with a deadly seriousness.

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Tomoya Shimizu, international office chief of JAMS, said, “There have not yet been any major marine accidents involving HNS [hazardous and noxious substances], and so few countries are prepared for them. I hope this course will help the trainees to correct this deficiency in their various countries.”