Oil spills off UK coast "on the increase"

Environmental groups say tanker accidents up in 1999, flags of convenience dominate

Oil tanker accidents off the UK coast appear to be on the increase with one occurring nearly every two weeks on average, according to official figures for 1999 released yesterday by national wildlife and environmental groups.

The Wildlife Trusts and Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) report, based on information provided by the environment ministry, shows an increase to 22 accidents last year after 17 in 1998. In 1997 the figure was 21, preceded by a peak of 26 in 1996. Most accidents did not result in oil pollution.

Head of the WWF's marine programme, Sian Pullen, said: "These statistics clearly demonstrate that the UK government has not done enough to reduce the risk of an oil spill disaster". The groups welcomed a government initiative to develop a system of marine environmental high risk areas (MEHRAs), but Dr Pullen called for these to be backed by the stronger form of protection afforded by particularly sensitive areas (PSAs), which the groups are calling on the government to nominate. They want tighter International Maritime Organisation shipping rules for tankers to be applied in these areas.

The groups add that the top five foreign flags involved in accidents off the UK in 1999 were the Bahamas, Norway, Gibraltar, Liberia and Malta. The European Commission has recently signalled its intention to strengthen rules on ships flying flags of convenience (ENDS Daily 12 January) following the oil spill off the west coast of France last December caused by the sinking of the Maltese-registered Erika.

Follow Up:
WWF UK, tel: +44 1483 412 379; Wildlife Trusts, tel: +44 207 921 5409.

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