Transport Secretary Alistair Darling today unveiled 32 locations around the UK coast that have been identified as Marine Environmental High Risk Areas (MEHRAs). The primary purpose of MEHRAs will be to inform mariners of areas of high environmental sensitivity where there is a realistic risk of pollution from merchant shipping.

The introduction and status of MEHRAs follow recommendations made by the late Lord Donaldson in his report Safer Ships, Cleaner Seas following the Braer tanker disaster off the Shetland Islands in January 1993. He said that their primary purpose was "... to inform [ships'] Masters of areas where there is a real prospect of a problem arising.".

The locations of MEHRAs have been identified after taking into account shipping risk, environmental sensitivity and other environmental protection measures already in place at each location.

Mr Darling said:

"The Government has looked very carefully at every part of the UK coastline and assessed the potential impact of commercial shipping on the local environment. As a result, we have identified 32 locations around the UK that should be given MEHRA protection.

"MEHRAs will be an essential aid to passage planning since their primary purpose is to inform ships' masters of areas where they need to exercise even more caution than usual. This is just part of the information available to mariners to enable them to navigate UK waters safely."

MEHRAs will now be notified by a Marine Guidance Note to mariners who will be expected to exercise an even higher degree of care than usual when passing through them. They will also be marked on Admiralty charts.

Mr Darling made his announcement in a Written Statement to Parliament.