SHIPOWNERS, as good citizens, should demonstrate to the public that they are sensitive to environmental concerns - preferably before an accident happens, says a US-based consultant. Crisis Consultants president Jesse Lewis said: ''There is a great sensitivity worldwide about the negative effects on the environment of a major pollution incident.'' The shipping industry, he said, should turn to public relations as a management tool and for managing a major accident. Mr Lewis said that usually, when there was an accident, a shipping company called a lawyer, protection and indemnity (P&I) insurance, hull insurance brokers, salvors and average adjusters. ''But in today's world the public's perception of how a casualty is handled often has a direct influence on the outcome, particularly in the US and in the Straits of Malacca,'' he said. Mr Lewis has worked with shipowners involved in five accidents, including the Braer oil tanker in the Shetland Islands and the Maersk Navigator in the Straits of Malacca. He said: ''Every good quality shipping company will do the right thing, but it is important that they also project to the public what they are doing. ''I think it is of critical importance for the shipowner to project that they are sensitive to what has happened and that they share the concerns of the affected public and demonstrate convincingly that they are responding professionally to the incident.'' Both the Braer and the Maersk Navigator disasters were handled with professionalism, he said. Mr Lewis, who is represented in Hongkong by Forrest International, said that in the Braer disaster, a photograph of a bird covered with oil was used by publications labelling it as evidence of what could happen following an oil spill. ''It is somewhat misleading to use a photograph from another incident as evidence of what is happening in the current development,'' he said. That was why it was important for a shipping company to encourage and to ensure accurate news coverage by making sure that the press was supplied with adequate information, he stressed. He cited a British television commentator saying at the time of the Braer crisis that salmon fishing was the second largest industry in the Shetland Islands, without mentioning that the largest industry was oil, which was just as relevant. Mr Lewis said he had not encountered any instance where his advice on handling the media in case of a major accident had been opposed by his clients as his advice was based on common sense.