THE worst news that the chairman of any oil company can hear is that one of his tankers is damaged and is spewing oil near a heavily populated coastline. The environmental damage and publicity can be disastrous as well as expensive. Disturbed by the Exxon Valdez accident in 1994, the Mobil Corporation last year set up three Mobil Region Response Teams (MRRTs) to handle emergency situations. The three regions are North and South America, Europe and the Middle East, and the Pacific Rim. The Pacific Rim is divided into north (Korea and Japan), central (Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia) and south (Australia, New Zealand and Guam). Each Mobil company designates seven managers or supervisors who are trained to deal with emergencies. In the case of an incident at Tsing Yi complex, for example, a small oil spill of less than 700 barrels (classified as a Tier One incident), the terminal manager would command the team. Emergency equipment includes a boom to contain the spill, a skimmer to gather the oil, vehicles and vessels to recover it and chemicals to clean the site. 'All the chemicals and solvents are approved by the Environmental Protection Department,' said Choi Yin-chun, Mobil Oil Hong Kong's environmental, health and safety manager. 'Terminal employees and contracted staff would be included in the team. 'Thirty individuals have received training for this and other emergencies.' While a Tier One incident should only take a couple of days to deal with, a Tier Three incident (a spill that exceeds 7,000 barrels or 1,000 tonnes) requires more co-ordination. 'If it occurs at sea, the ship's captain will radio Mobil marine, who will contact the nearest Mobil MRRT and instruct it to take action,' Mr Choi said. 'The local management has to decide whether to activate an operational command centre and whether to call in experts from other Mobil companies in the region.' A Tier Three incident could last three weeks, with staff working a three-shift day. The worst spill that Mobil Oil Hong Kong has had to deal with during the past 16 years has involved 200 litres of oil. But Mr Choi is not complacent. 'Members of the team train on specific topics. We also hold three or four exercises a year. 'We were involved in one joint exercise in August, which Esso Hong Kong organised and in which all major oil companies in Hong Kong took part. 'We are planning a three-day combined table-top and live exercise next April to which we will invite the marine department and other Government departments to take part. They can do so either as players or observers.' The exercise will also involve MMRT staff from elsewhere in the region. Previously, the Hong Kong MMRT has trained at Melbourne, Guam, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. In another attempt to react quickly to prevent environmental disasters, on October 26 the five major oil companies - Mobil, Shell, Caltex, Esso and CRC - set up an independent company, Hong Kong Respond, to train the oil companies' contractors and to maintain equipment.