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Tanker accidents raise spectre of oil-spill disaster.

Tanker accidents off the UK coast appear to be on the increase, according to Government figures released today by wildlife groups.

The disclosure comes on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the Sea Empress oil spill disaster and shows there have been 146 accidents during the past eight years.

There were 17 accidents in 1992, rising to 22 accidents in 1999, an average rate of almost one oil tanker incident every two months, according to the Wildlife Trusts and WWF-UK.

Dr Sian Pullen, head of WWF-UK's marine programme, said: "It's a miracle that we have not had another serious spill off the UK coast during the last four years.

"These statistics clearly demonstrate that the UK Government has not done enough to reduce the risk of an oil spill disaster. Unless urgent action is taken, another spill is inevitable."

The two groups are urging the Government to nominate vulnerable areas of the UK coast as Particularly Sensitive Areas, protected zones backed by the International Maritime Organisation.

This would lead to tighter rules governing the management of oil tankers and other vessels.

Research by the Wildlife Trusts and WWF-UK has already identified two areas in immediate need of special status, including the coast of Pembrokeshire in Wales, where the Sea Empress accident took place on February 15, 1996, and the Minches off the western coast of Scotland.

Although they welcome the announcement last week by Transport Minister Lord Macdonald of a consultative process to look into the setting up of Marine Environmental High Risk Areas, they are concerned that this form of protection is not enough.

MEHRAs may only lead to the marking of environmentally sensitive areas on a shipping map.

Dr Pullen added: "MEHRAs won't lead to any changes in the rules governing shipping activity. It's like labelling a motorway as dangerous but then failing to set a speed limit.

"MEHRAs are necessary, but they must be complemented by the stronger form of protection afforded by PSSAs."

The Wildlife Trusts and WWF-UK warn that some oil spill response recommendations made in the wake of the Sea Empress accident have still not been implemented.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 15, 2000
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