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Warning over sea accident hotspots

The waters around the British Isles are among the most dangerous in the world in terms of shipping accidents, according to conservation group WWF.

There were 135 reported shipping accidents in the shipping lanes around the British Isles, North Sea and Bay of Biscay between 1999 and 2011, said WWF. This made the area the fourth worst in the world for accidents, with incidents including fires, collisions and leakage of toxic waste.

WWF said the North Sea was one of the most intensively sailed seas in the world with more than 120,000 ship movements taking place there every year. The South China Sea and East Indies, east Mediterranean and Black Sea, were also found to be dangerous hotspots for accidents involving ships.

WWF's marine manager Dr Simon Walmsley said: "Shipping lanes around the UK are already some of the worlds' busiest and will get busier as the global fleet expands. The risk of accidents and environmental disaster is only going to increase so efforts must be made to lower the risk.

"Unfortunately in the past we've seen that it is only after a major accident that safety and environment measures are reviewed. That needs to change if we want to maintain healthy seas."

Released ahead of World Oceans Day, the figures showed the three areas with the most shipping accidents between 1999 and 2011 were the South China Sea and East Indies, the east Mediterranean and the Black Sea. In that period there have been 293 shipping accidents in the South China Sea and East Indies, home to 76% of the world's coral species.

WWF said fishing vessels accounted for nearly a quarter of the vessels lost at sea but general cargo ships accounted for more than 40%.

Dr Walmsley said: "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.

"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."

A Department for Transport spokesman said: "The UK has one of the most advanced monitoring and reporting regimes in the world so we are likely to have a higher number of recorded incidents than other countries because we track the data so carefully. Our excellent regime means that the risks in some of the world's busiest shipping lane are kept to a minimum."

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