PEOPLE WHO TRANSPORT OIL feel like they're living in a fishbowl these days, and most of them don't like it.

The press and the public have become much more vigilant toward oil spills in the 12 months since the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska last March 24, causing the worst U.S. oil spill ever. That greater vigilance and reduced public tolerance hit home in New York recently, following a string of highly publicized spills in New York harbor this year.''I think they (oil shippers) had a run of bad luck and I think the news media over-hyped it," Joseph M. McLaughlin, vice president of Elmont, N.Y.-based Hull & Cargo Surveyors Inc., said Wednesday. Six years ago Mr. McLaughlin was dealing with a grounded oil barge in the harbor, and he recalls the scene was much different then.

"There were no reporters, no news people ever involved in it. Now, today, that's big news."

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MR. McLAUGHLIN, ONE OF 400 maritime executives attending the Coast Guard's annual "Industry Day" program at Governor's Island, N.Y., said he thought the oil industry behaves responsibly.

"They have a part responsibility and they started realizing that. The oil industry has always been concerned with spills and the loss of product."

Most people in the crowd agreed that the oil transportation industry had been maligned by the press and has gotten a black eye. There was agreement that the four recent spills in the Kill van Kull and the Arthur Kill were a fluke.

''Generally speaking, the major oil companies police themselves pretty well. The transportation companies have a lot to lose by being lax," said Mark Salamack, general manager of New York-based ABC Tank Repair.