Chinese transport authorities are to step up water safety controls following a bridge collapse that left nine people dead in south China's Guangdong Province more than 10 days ago.
Weng Mengyong, vice minister of communications, said Tuesday at a press conference that the government was gravely concerned over the safety of public transport facilities.
The Ministry of Communications had urged local departments to reinforce bridges on all major waterways, Weng said.
His ministry on Thursday launched a six-month nationwide campaign to prevent collisions between vessels and between vessels and bridges and other facilities along waterways.
The campaign would also target ships transporting crude oil and dangerous materials with the purpose of preventing leaks and environmental pollution, he said.
"I speak here taking full responsibility for my own words that the bridges across the Yangtze River have quality assurances. The large bridges made in recent years in particular have taken into full account a variety of elements," he said.
Four vehicles carrying seven people and two road workers were thrown into the Xijiang River in Guangdong on June 15 when, in heavy fog, a cargo vessel traveling along the river ploughed into a section of the 1,600-meter-long Jiujiang bridge that spans the river, causing part of it to collapse.
Investigators said the collapse had nothing to do with the quality of the construction of the bridge which opened to traffic in 1988.
The water transport safety issue has been brought into the limelight after the fatal collision despite a drop in waterway accidents and deaths.
Compared with 2000, the number of water traffic accidents in 2006 had dropped by 31 percent and the death toll by 35 percent.
Last year, the daily number of vessels entering the Yangtze River and the Pearl River averaged more than 3,000. The country's water transport control authorities are under increasing pressure as vessels get bigger and traffic flows get denser.
The government has worked out a scheme for the supervision of water transport safety and the command of emergency rescue work.
Under the scheme, the water safety control authorities would carry out real-time supervision of passing vessels and ensure round-the-clock rescue service available within 45 minutes on inland routes.
At least, Weng said, 93 percent of accident victims are rescued every year, adding that in cases of oil spills on key water areas, rescue teams would be able to clean up to 1,000 tons of oil every time.
Wrecked ships weighing less than eight tons would be salvaged and the depth of under-water rescue work would reach 300 meters, said Weng.
"By 2020, the country will have a comprehensive all-weather and quick-response water transport safety supervision and rescue system on major inland rivers including the Yangtze, Zhujiang and Heilongjiang rivers," he said.
The government would also step up construction of inland routes and major ports to improve water traffic conditions.
Weng said 20 provincial regions and 56 cities with more than 500,000people would be linked by major inland routes and ports by 2020, saying it would save land resources and intensify national transport capacity.