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KARACHI, Dec 22: The major port authority of the country - the Karachi Port Trust - and six leading oil companies on Wednesday launched a spill response project to enhance the existing capacity of combating marine oil spills and to promote awareness about pollution hazards.

According to a memorandum of understanding signed at a ceremony for establishing the "Marine Oil Spill Resource Centre (MOSReC)", the signatories - the founding members - among other things, would work for creation and maintenance of an updated database of resources and expertise available in the country for oil spill control and disaster.

The founding members would also make efforts in developing plans and strategies for influencing other oil industry members and bodies concerned to join the centre, besides highlighting the urgency of a national oil spill contingency plan.

The need for broader oil spill response activities was felt badly after the major environmental degradation caused due to the breaking of a foreign oil tanker, Tasman Spirit.

Some 31,000 tonnes of crude oil were discharged during a course of three weeks in 2003. According to a pollution control expert, the KPT at present had expertise and experience to handle such spill-related problems, but those too were limited.

Talking to Dawn, the General Manager (Operation), KPT, Rear Admiral Noman Bashir, said the port trust had been working for establishment of a response centre, involving all stakeholders, since after an oil spill of 225 tonnes from an oil tanker, Golden Gate, in September 2002.

He said that other ports of the country, PNSC, civic bodies, environmental agencies and a group of experts could be co-opted at some later stage. At the moment, the newly formed centre was being aimed at pooling available resources, and procuring major equipment needed for control of oil spills of higher-level, he added.

Speaking on behalf of the company hosting the ceremony, Farooq Rahmatullah, held the signing of MoU as a historic event, and attributed it to the joint efforts of the oil companies and the KPT.

He said that MOSReC would focus to develop awareness about risks associated with marine oil spills, strategies to mitigate the occurrence of oil spills and capacity building, both in terms of hardware and skilled manpower within Pakistan.

The MoU was signed by senior executives of Shell Pakistan, Caltex Oil Pakistan, Pakistan Refinery Limited, National Refinery Limited, Bosicor Pakistan, Pakistan State Oil and the KPT.

Some of the oil spills containment and recovery equipment available with the MOSReC include; inflatable boom (offshore and inshore) 1700 metres, boats-2, powered air inflators and deflators for boom-5, skimmers-5, storage tanks-6, portable separators for shoreline cleaning-5, and dispersant spray units-4.

As per the MoU, the equipment available with the founding member of MOSReC would be pooled for marine oil spill control and response activities as follows: to combat the localised spill that needs to be handled by the member itself; and training of members' personnel on marine oil spill preparedness and response strategies.

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