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A systematic assessment of maritime disruptions affecting UK ports, coastal areas and surrounding seas from 1950 to 2014


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.

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  1. 1.

    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.

  2. 2.

    Percentages exceed 100 % as events that affected multiple areas were recorded multiple times.


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Map outlines from © Crown Copyright, Ordnance Survey: 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).

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Correspondence to E. F. Adam.

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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).

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  • Extreme events
  • UK
  • EEZ
  • Coastal areas
  • Ports
  • Disruptions