Some of the world’s busiest oceans are hotspots for shipwrecks, often caused by adverse weather that will only increase with climate change, according to a new study.
The South China Seas and East Indies, the East Mediterranean and Black Sea, and the North Sea and British Isles had the most accidents between 1999 and 2011. There were 293 accidents in the South China Seas and East Indies, where more than 70 percent of the world’s corals thrive. The area is known for its marine biodiversity.
Scientists at Southampton Solent University carried out the study for the World Wildlife Fund.
Most of these ships are smaller and generally more than 20 years old. Operations are frequently conducted on the cheap, with substandard crew and vessels. Almost half the accidents were caused when the ship foundered — leaked or sank – and were not due to collisions.
“Climate change predictions are likely to exacerbate the causes of foundering: storm surge, changing wind/wave climates, extreme weather events,” the study reports.
Still, not all the news is bad. The shipping industry has improved its safety record since 1980, with an 18 percent decrease in the number of accidents. The accidents triggered changes in shipping legislation that have improved the quality of the vessels plying the oceans.
The first of these laws was the Safety of Life at Sea Convention, which was put in place after the loss of the Titanic in 1912.
Other prominent accidents include the Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker that ran aground in Prince William Sound in 1989 and spilled more than 11 million gallons of crude. The accident triggered the International Maritime Organization to require double hulls on oceangoing vessels.
In 1996, the Sea Empress tanker spilled 72,000 tons of crude near Wales. The following year, the Nakhodka sank off Japan and spilled 6,200 tons of crude.
The MV Pallas floundered in the North Sea in 1998. It was a small spill in an environmentally sensitive region that coated beaches in oil and killed thousands of sea birds.
In 2002, the Prestige oil tanker caused the biggest environmental disaster in both Spain and Portugal. The vessel sank following a storm, releasing 70,000 tons of crude into the Atlantic Ocean.
The MV Rena cargo ship sank off New Zealand in 2011 while carrying 1,368 containers. Some 300 went overboard. Oil coated the beaches, and 2,000 sea birds died. It was the worst environmental disaster in the nation’s history.
In 2013, a Chinese fishing vessel ploughed into a 500-year-old coral reef off the Philippines and damaged 3,902 square meters. This was after a U.S. Navy vessel damaged a smaller area of the same reef earlier this year.
Photo: The stern of MV Rena is seen on Astrolabe Reef on Jan. 13, 2012 in Tauranga, New Zealand. Credit: Maritime New Zealand/Getty Images