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According to figures from the Yangtze Maritime Safety Administration, whose jurisdiction covers the long stretch between Chongqing and Wuhu in Anhui province, the number of major accidents on the Yangtze rose by 11 per cent year-on-year to 441 in 2007. Serious accidents involved 660 vessels and 7,826 people, and caused direct financial losses estimated at Rmb17.1m. Seventeen of these collisions resulted in 30 sunken vessels and 62 people dead or missing, presumed dead. The death toll was 17 higher than in the previous year.

Combined, Chongqing and Wuhan accounted for nearly 30 per cent of the 2007 total. The smallest number occurred in the Three Gorges Reservoir; this was probably explained by the implementation of the traffic lane system and the improved shipping conditions in general.

Stranded vessels were the cause of some 35 per cent of accidents. December was the worst month of the year: the Yangtze suffered its worst drought in 50 years and as many as two accidents a day on average were recorded during the month.

Overloaded and outdated vessels, understaffing and a general lack of safety awareness were blamed for the increasing number of accidents. Even though mechanical failures and extreme weather conditions such as dense fog cause some of the accidents, human error is by far the most significant factor. According to official statistics, nearly 44 per cent of accidents in 2007 were attributed to improper operational procedures and 27 per cent to dangerous sailing.

The Yangtze Maritime Safety Administration publishes a safety index called the Yangtze Trunkline Comprehensive Safety Assessment Measures, which gives an overall indication of shipping conditions in different areas of the river. Several factors are taken into account, including the number of accidents. In 2007, the area around Wuhan was singled out as ‘fast deteriorating’, while Chongqing and Huangshi, which both recorded high numbers of accidents, fell respectively into the categories of ‘marked improvement’ and ‘essentially stable’.

More information on river safety can be found in Chapter 4 of Yangtze Transport 2008.
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