8 narrow channels of vital importance


Up to 600 vessels pass through the Straits of Dover every day, ranking it above even the Strait of Singapore (separating Indonesia and the city state) as the world's busiest route for vessels.

Cargo ships, tankers and fishing boats moving between the North Sea and Atlantic regularly cross paths with smaller passenger ferries shuttling between British, French and Belgian ports.

This is every bit as dangerous as it sounds -- as the statistics show. The Strait of Dover suffered 26 major tanker accidents between 1951 and 1998, compared with 21 for the Singapore Strait, 16 for the Strait of Malacca, nine for Turkey's Bosphorus and eight each for the Strait of Gibraltar and the Suez Canal.

This despite the introduction of a regimented lane system (The Traffic Separation Scheme) in the Channel in 1967, the first of its kind in the world that led to the International Collision Regulations (COLREGS) Convention, but which led to the Straits of Dover being dubbed the "maritime motorway".

But traffic has almost doubled in the last 20 years, leading to fears that a serious collision between a cargo ship and a passenger ferry is bound to happen sooner or later, with scope for major loss of life. The TRICOLOR accident in December 2002 is perhaps a warning to us all.

The map above shows the vessel volumes through the English Channel and around the UK coasts. It is estimated that nearly 200,000 vessel transits occur per annum.

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