A new study, which reveals the most dangerous oceans and also describes how likely is for the number of shipwrecks to increase in the years to come, was conducted by the World Wildlife Fund for World Oceans Day, IbTimes reported.
Team of scientists at Southampton Solent University, which carried out the research, said that, even though the number of sea accidents has fallen by 18% since 1980, accidents mostly occur in areas of environmental significance: South China Sea and East Indies, eastern Mediterranean, North Sea, Black Sea, and British Isles.
The North Sea is one of the most intensively sailed seas in the world with more than 120,000 ship movements each year, according to Simon Walmsley, marine manager at WWF. “Shipping lanes around the U.K. are already some of the world’s busiest and will get busier as the global fleet expands,” he noted. “The risk of accidents and environmental disaster is only going to increase, so efforts must be made to lower the risk.”
In the South China Sea and East Indies, area with largest number of accidents, concerns are even greater. “Since 1999, there have been 293 shipping accidents in the South China Sea and East Indies, home of the Coral Triangle and 76 percent of the world’s coral species,” Walmsley said. “As recently as April this year, we’ve seen a Chinese fishing boat run aground on a protected coral reef in the Philippines that had already been damaged by a U.S. Navy ship in January.”
The number of ships sailing the open oceans has increased over the past 15 years to about 105,000 from roughly 85,000. According to the study, fishing vessels account for nearly one-quarter of the vessels lost at sea, while general cargo ships make up more than 40 percent. Cargo ships tend to operate on short shipping routes associated with tramp trading “where ships don’t have a set route and pick up opportunistic trade, particularly in Southeast Asia,” the report said.
The scale of environmental risks are linked to the type of cargo onboard (oil, hazardous substances, etc.) and the sensitivity of the marine area where the accident occurs. Walmsley remainded of the 2002 sinking of the Prestige oil tanker, when more than 70,000 tons of oil was released into the Atlantic Ocean off the Spanish coast, as an example of the costs.
“The Prestige oil spill caused not only environmental impacts but economic losses estimated at €8 billion [$10.4 billion],” he said. “Even small-scale accidents in very sensitive environments, like the Great Barrier Reef, can have profound environmental consequences.”
The study expresses concerns about new ports under construction near the Great Barrier Reef that would be used in the transport of coal from Australia but also boost traffic in the area and thus increase risks. It says that increased storm surges, changing wind and wave patterns, and extreme weather events will all exacerbate the risks of foundering, leading to potentially catastrophic environmental destruction.
According to the scientists at Southampton Solent University, some 50 percent of all accidents are caused by foundering (where a boat sinks in rough weather, leaks or breaks in two).
“We really want to see the shipping industry promote greater owner and operator responsibility and encourage owners to register with better flag states, the country which a vessel is registered to,” Walmsley said. “Additionally, irresponsible and badly performing owners and countries need to be exposed in order to motivate them to significantly increase their standards, which will decrease the number of accidents we see still occurring today.”