Maritime disruptions can have severe negative implications including affecting business operations, regional and national economies and causing damage to vessels. This study analysed maritime disruptions in UK ports, coastal areas and surrounding seas from 1950 to 2014, systematically assessing their scale, duration, extent and consequences. Disruptions are a single or sequence of hazardous events that negatively affect ‘business as usual’ conditions, ranging from minor to major disruption and even loss of life. To express this range, a severity scale was developed and applied. A database of maritime disruptions and their severities was constructed using data archaeology, identifying 88 events, primarily caused by wind storms (36 %), human error (23 %), mechanical faults (14 %) and storm surges (12 %). All events other than human error or mechanical faults occurred between October and March (typically associated with autumn/winter storms and depressions), with 65 % recorded between November and January. Maritime disruptions from weather events tended to have regional/national impacts, whereas human error or mechanical faults were usually locally severe. Since 2000, ports demonstrated more frequent disruption to wind storms due to mechanization, increased delay and closure reporting, and refined health and safety regulations. Most frequently affected were the sea areas Fair Isle and Dover, and the Felixstowe and Dover ports. Through time, primary impacts shifted from extensive flooding and structural damage to financial impacts and disruption, associated with adaptation including implementation/upgrading of coastal defences, storm warning systems and legislation. Port and governmental bodies responded adaptively (e.g. Thames Barrier construction and development of automatic tracking systems). The UK’s maritime disruption vulnerability has altered significantly since 1950 and continues to evolve.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Primary data sources containing records of maritime disruptions: BBC, Belfast Telegraph, Bournemouth Echo, East Anglian Daily Times, Ipswich Star, Irish Independent, ITV News, South Wales Argus, The Argus, The Daily Mail, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Post, The Grimsby Telegraph, The Guardian, The Herald, The Independent, The Irish Emigrant, The Irish Independent, The Scotsman, The Southern Daily Echo, The Shetland Times and The Telegraph. A full list is located in Appendix 1 in ESM.
Percentages exceed 100 % as events that affected multiple areas were recorded multiple times.
ABP (2010) Port of Southampton Master Plan 2009–2030. ABP Print Solutions, p 136
ABPmer (2014) Ensuring flood resilience: an overview of 5/6 December 2013 UK storm surge, vol 1400/30. ABPmer
Anon (1826) Eddystone lighthouse, vol 150. Knight and Lacey, London
BBC (2002a) £30 m cargo ‘lost’ as ship sinks. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/2576179.stm. Accessed 7 Jan 2015
BBC (2002b) Ship sinks after channel collision. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/2575009.stm. Accessed 7 Jan 2015
BBC (2013) Lethal storm and tidal surge sees thousands out of homes. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-25220224. Accessed 23 Oct 2014
BBC (2015) Dawlish rail line: closure ‘costs economy up to £1.2bn’. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-devon-31140192. Accessed 5 Feb 2015
BEAmer (2002) Supplementary report to the inquiry into the collision between the car carrier Trocolor and the container vessel Kariba, Ministère des Transports, de l’Equipement, du Tourisme et de la Mer, p 33
Bengtsson L, Hodges KI, Roeckner E (2006) Storm tracks and climate change. J Clim 19:3518–3543
Bertin X, Prouteau E, Letetrel C (2013) A significant increase in wave height in the North Atlantic Ocean over the 20th century. Global Planet Change 106:77–83. doi:10.1016/j.gloplacha.2013.03.009
Boulter SL, Palutikof J, Karoly DJ, Guitart D (2013) Natural disasters and adaptation to climate change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
BP (2015) Accidental death & dismemberment (AD&D) coverage. http://hr.bpglobal.com/LifeBenefits/Sites/Core/BP-Life-benefits/Employee-benefits-handbook/Basic-life-and-accidental-death—dismembermen/How-the-plan-works/Accidental-death–amp;-dismemberment-(AD-amp;D)-co.aspx. Accessed 12 Nov 2015
Brayne M (2003) The greatest storm: Britain’s night of destruction November 1703. The History Press, Stroud
Brown S, Hanson S, Nicholls RJ (2014) Implications of sea-level rise and extreme events around Europe: a review of coastal energy infrastructure. Clim Change 122:81–95
BSI (2013) Code of practice for the safe use of cranes. Inspection, maintenance and thorough examination. Cargo handling and container cranes. BSI, P 40
Burke L (2013) The sea gem: a story of material failure. J Undergrad Eng Res Scholarsh 1:1–7
Cosco (2013) Port of Felixstowe weather warning. http://www.coscon.co.uk/news/port-of-felixstowe-weather-warning/. Accessed 23 Oct 2014
Department for Transport (2012) National policy statement for ports. The Stationary Office, London
Department for Transport (2014) UK port freight statistics: 2013. The Stationary Office, London
Department of Energy and Climate Change (2014) Table of current UKCS installations
Dodet G, Bertin X, Taborda R (2010) Wave climate variability in the North-East Atlantic Ocean over the last six decades. Ocean Model 31:120–131. doi:10.1016/j.ocemod.2009.10.010
DP World LG (2013) Britain’s new gateway to global trade DP World London Gateway port. http://www.londongateway.com/media-page/press-releases/britains-new-gateway-global-trade-dp-world-london-gateway-port/. Accessed 28 July 2015
Edmond ED, Maggs RP (1978) How useful are queue models in port investment decisions for container berths? J Oper Res Soc 29:741–750. doi:10.2307/3009265
Environment Agency (2012) Thames Estuary 2100: Managing flood risk through London and the Thames estuary
Feng X, Tsimplis MN, Quartly GD, Yelland MJ (2014) Wave height analysis from 10 years of observations in the Norwegian Sea. Cont Shelf Res 72:47–56. doi:10.1016/j.csr.2013.10.013
Haigh ID et al (2015) A user-friendly database of coastal flooding in the United Kingdom from 1915–2014. Sci Data 2:150021. doi:10.1038/sdata.2015.21
Hall JW, Brown S, Nicholls RJ, Pidgeon NF, Watson RT (2012) Proportionate adaptation. Nat Clim Change 2:833–834
House of Commons (2014) Transport committee: forging ahead?, vol 630. The Stationary Office, London
Hurrell JW, Kushnor Y, Ottersen G, Visbeck M (2003) The North Atlantic oscillation: climate significance and environmental impact, vol 134. American Geophysical Union, Washington
IPCC (2012) Summary for Policymakers. In: Field CB, Barros V, Stocker TF, Qin D, Dokken DJ, Ebi KL, Mastrandrea MD, Mach KJ, Plattner G-K, Allen SK, Tignor M, Midgley PM (eds) Managing the risks of extreme events and disasters to advance climate change adaptation. A Special Report of Working Groups I and II of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, p 19
ITOPF (2015) Oil tanker spill statistics 2014. ITOPF, p 12
Jonkman SN, Kelman I (2005) Deaths during the 1953 North Sea storm surge. In: Proceedings of the solutions to coastal disasters conferences, American Society for civil engineers, Charleston, South Carolina, 8–11 May 2005
Lamb HH (2012) Weather, climate and human affairs: a book of essays and other papers. Routledge Revivals, London
Lee RD, Schofield RS (1981) Volume 1: 1700–1860. The economic history of Britain since 1700. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
Lloyd’s Register, QinetiQ, Strathclyde Uo (2015) Global Marine Trends 2030
Lumbroso DM, Vinet F (2011) A comparison of the causes, effects and aftermaths of the coastal flooding of England in 1953 and France in 2010. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci 11:2321–2333. doi:10.5194/nhess-11-2321-2011
MAIB (2003) Report on the investigation of the collision between Pride of Portsmouth and HMS St. Albans Portsmouth Harbour 27 October 2002. Southampton
Maier S (2010) Are the news fit to post? Comparing news content on the web to newspapers, television and radio. Journal Mass Commun Q 87:548–562
Met Office (2014) The recent storms and floods in the UK. Exeter
Mileti D (1999) Disasters by design: a reassessment of natural hazards in the United States. Joseph Henry Press, Washington
Ng AKY, Liu JJ (2010) The port and maritime industries in the post-2008 world: challenges and opportunities. Res Transp Econ 27:1–3
Nicholls R, et al. (2008) Ranking port cities with high exposure and vulnerability to climate extremes: exposure estimates OECD environment working papers: 63. doi:10.1787/011766488208
Nicholls RJ, Kebede AS (2012) Indirect impacts of coastal climate change and sea-level rise: the UK example. Clim Policy 12:S28–S52
Nicholls RJ, Townend IH, Bradbury AP, Ramsbottom D, Day SA (2013) Planning for long-term coastal change: experiences from England and Wales. Ocean Eng 71:3–16
Osthorst W, Manz C (2012) Types of cluster adaptation to climate change. Lessons from the port and logistics sector of Northwest Germany. Marit Policy Manag 39:227–248. doi:10.1080/03088839.2011.650724
Oxford Economics (2013) The economic impact of the UK Maritime Services Sector: Ports. Oxford
Palmer T (2011) Energetic swell waves in the English channel. University of Southampton, Southampton
Peel Ports (2014) Liverpool 2. http://www.peel.co.uk/projects/liverpool2. Accessed 19 Nov 2015
Rodrigue J-P, Comtois C, Slack B (2006) The geography of transport systems. Routledge, London
Ruocco AC, Nicholls RJ, Haigh ID, Wadey MP (2011) Reconstructing coastal flood occurrence combining sea level and media sources: a case study of the Solent, UK since 1935. Nat Hazards 59:1773–1796. doi:10.1007/s11069-011-9868-7
Spencer T, Brooks SM, Evans BR, Tempest JA, Möller I (2015) Southern North Sea storm surge event of 5 December 2013: water levels, waves and coastal impacts. Earth Sci Rev 146:120–145. doi:10.1016/j.earscirev.2015.04.002
The Exclusive Economic Zone Order (2013) United Kingdom
Tompkins EL, Adger WN, Boyd E, Nicholson-Cole S, Weatherhead K, Arnell N (2010) Observed adaptation to climate change: UK evidence of transition to a well-adapting society. Glob Environ Change 20:627–635. doi:10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2010.05.001
TT Club, ICHCA International, Port Equipment Manufacturers Association (2011) Recommended minimum safety specifications for quay container cranes. TT Club (in collaboration with ICHCA International and PEMA), p 15
Ulbrich U, Pinto JG, Kupfer H, Leckebusch GC, Spangehl T, Reyers M (2008) Changing northern hemisphere storm tracks in an ensemble of IPCC climate change simulations. J Clim 21:1669–1679. doi:10.1175/2007JCLI1992.1
United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (1982) Article 57
Wadey MP, Brown JM, Haigh ID, Dolphin T, Wisse P (2015a) Assessment and comparison of extreme sea levels and waves during the 2013/2014 storm season in two UK coastal regions. Nat Hazards Earth Syst Sci Discuss 3:44
Wadey MP et al (2015b) A comparison of the 31 January–1 February 1953 and 5–6 December 2013 coastal flood events around the UK Frontiers in Marine. Science. doi:10.3389/fmars.2015.00084
Wahl T et al (2013) Observed mean sea level changes around the North Sea coastline from 1800 to present. Earth Sci Rev 124:51–67. doi:10.1016/j.earscirev.2013.05.003
Wallingford HR (2012) Climate change risk assessment for the transport sector
WASA Group (1998) Changing waves and storms in the northeast Atlantic? Bull Am Meteorol Soc 79:741–760. doi:10.1175/1520-0477(1998)079<0741:CWASIT>2.0.CO;2
Wisner B, Blaikie P, Cannon T, Davis I (2004) At risk: natural hazards, people’s vulnerability and disasters. Routledge, London
Woodworth PL, Teferle FN, Bingley RM, Shennan I, Williams SDP (2009) Trends in UK mean sea level revisited. Geophys J Int 176:19–30. doi:10.1111/j.1365-246X.2008.03942.x
World Shipping Council (2015) Trade Statistics. http://www.worldshipping.org/about-the-industry/global-trade/trade-statistics. Accessed 10 Mar 2015
Map outlines from © Crown Copyright, Ordnance Survey: https://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/opendatadownload/products.html. EA is grateful for the receipt of a Southampton Marine and Maritime Institution (SMMI) and the University of Southampton’s Faculty of Engineering and the Environment (FEE) funded studentship during the course of this research. SB was funded by the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme’s collaborative project RISES-AM- (contract FP7-ENV-2013-two-stage-603396).
Electronic supplementary material
Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.
About this article
Cite this article
Adam, E.F., Brown, S., Nicholls, R.J. et al. A systematic assessment of maritime disruptions affecting UK ports, coastal areas and surrounding seas from 1950 to 2014. Nat Hazards 83, 691–713 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-016-2347-4
- Extreme events
- Coastal areas