Oil Tanker Spill Statistics 2017


ITOPF maintains a database of oil spills from tank vessels, including combined carriers, FPSOs and barges. This contains information on accidental spillages of persistent and non-persistent hydrocarbon oil since 1970, except those resulting from acts of war. The data held includes the location and cause of the incident, the vessel involved, the type of oil spilt and the spill amount. For historical reasons, spills are generally categorised by size, <7 tonnes, 7-700 tonnes and >700 tonnes (<50 bbls, 50-5,000 bbls, >5,000 bbls), although the actual amount spilt is also recorded. Information is now held on over 10,000 incidents, the vast majority of which fall into the smallest category i.e. <7 tonnes.

Information is gathered from published sources, such as the shipping press and other specialist publications, as well as from vessel owners, their insurers and from ITOPF's own experience at incidents. Unsurprisingly, information from published sources generally relates to large spills, often resulting from collisions, groundings, structural damage, fires or explosions.

Number of oil spills in 2017

For 2017, we recorded two large spills (>700 tonnes) and four medium spills (7-700 tonnes).

The first large spill occurred in June when a tanker sank in the Indian Ocean with over 5000 tonnes of oil on board. The second incident involved a tanker which sank off the coast of Greece in September spilling about 700 tonnes of oil.

Of the four medium sized spills two were recorded in January 2017 in South Asia and Southeast Asia; both resulted from collisions and involved the release of bunker fuel. A third spill was reported in East Asia in August. This also involved bunker fuel and resulted from a vessel grounding in bad weather. The fourth medium-sized spill occurred in October in the USA.

Quantity of oil spilt in 2017

The total volume of oil lost to the environment recorded in 2017 was approximately 7,000 tonnes, the majority of which can be attributed to the large spill (>700 tonnes) that occurred in the Indian Ocean in June.

Global oil spill trend

Over the last 48 years, statistics for spills greater than 7 tonnes from tankers show a marked downward trend as illustrated below.

Number of large (>700 tonnes) and medium (7-700 tonnes) spills recorded from 1970 to 2017

Further information is available in our annual statistical publication.

2017 Statistics Pack

Important Information

It should be noted that the figures for the amount of oil spilt in an incident include all oil lost to the environment, including that which burnt or remained in a sunken vessel. There is considerable annual variation in both the incidence of oil spills and the amounts of oil lost. While we strive to maintain precise records for all spill information, we cannot guarantee that the information taken from the shipping press and other sources is complete or accurate. The number of incidents and volumes of oil spilt are recorded based on the most up to date information. From time to time, data is received after publication and, in which case, adjustment to previous entries may be made. Consequently, the figures in the following tables, and any averages derived from them, should be viewed with a degree of caution.

Tanker spills from 1970 to 2017

The number of large spills (>700 tonnes) has decreased significantly over the last few decades and since 2010 averages 1.8 per year.

Number of large spills (>700 tonnes) from 1970 to 2017
Quantities of oil spilt 7 tonnes and over (rounded to nearest thousand), 1970 to 2017

It is interesting to note that the progressive reduction in the number of large spills is significant when data is analysed per decade rather than annually. Data recorded from 1970 to 2017 illustrate fluctuations in the yearly values within a decade.

A decline can also be observed with medium sized spills (7-700 tonnes). Here, the average number of spills per year in the 1990s was 28.1, reducing to 14.9 in the 2000s and is currently 4.9 for the 2010s (not a complete decade).

While increased tanker movements might imply increased risk, it is encouraging to observe that the downward trend in oil spills continues despite an overall increase in oil trading over the period (figure below right).

Number of medium (7-700 tonnes) and large (>700 tonnes) spills per decade from 1970 to 2017*
*only 8 years of data
Decline in number of tanker spills vs growth in crude, petroleum and gas loaded

Large oil spills

When looking at the frequency and quantities of oil spilt, it should be noted that a few very large spills are responsible for a high percentage of the oil spilt. For example, in more recent decades the following can be seen:

• In the 1990s there were 358 spills of 7 tonnes and over, resulting in 1,134,000 tonnes of oil lost; 73% of this amount was spilt in just 10 incidents.

• In the 2000s there were 181 spills of 7 tonnes and over, resulting in 196,000 tonnes of oil lost; 75% of this amount was spilt in just 10 incidents.

• In the eight year period 2010-2017 there have been 53 spills of 7 tonnes and over, resulting in 47,000 tonnes of oil lost; 80% of this amount was spilt in just 10 incidents.

In terms of the volume of oil spilt the figures for a particular year may be severely distorted by a single large incident. This is clearly illustrated by incidents such as ATLANTIC EMPRESS (1979), 287,000 tonnes spilt; CASTILLO DE BELLVER (1983), 252,000 tonnes spilt and ABT SUMMER (1991), 260,000 tonnes spilt (Figure 7).

Spills 7 tonnes and over per decade showing the influence of a relatively small number of comparatively large spills on the overall figure

Causes of large oil spills

In the period 1970 to 2017, 50% of large spills occurred while the vessels were underway in open water; allisions, collisions and groundings accounted for 59% of the causes of these spills. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these same causes account for an even higher percentage of incidents when the vessel was underway in inland or restricted waters, being linked to some 99% of spills.

Incidence of spills >700 tonnes by operation at time of incident and primary cause of spill, 1970 -2017

Major Oil Spills

A summary of the top 20 major spills that have occurred since the TORREY CANYON in 1967 is given below. It is of note that 19 of the 20 largest spills recorded occurred before the year 2000. A number of these incidents, despite their large size, necessitated little or no response as the oil was spilt some distance offshore and did not impact coastlines. For this reason some of the names listed may be unfamiliar. EXXON VALDEZ and HEBEI SPIRIT are included for comparison although these incidents are further down the list.

Top 20 Major Spills Table

PositionShipnameYearLocationSpill Size
1ATLANTIC EMPRESS 1979Off Tobago, West Indies 287,000
2ABT SUMMER1991 700 nautical miles off Angola 260,000
3CASTILLO DE BELLVER 1983Off Saldanha Bay, South Africa 252,000
4AMOCO CADIZ 1978Off Brittany, France 223,000
5HAVEN 1991Genoa, Italy 144,000
6ODYSSEY1988700 nautical miles off Nova Scotia, Canada132,000
7TORREY CANYON1967Scilly Isles, UK119,000
8SEA STAR1972Gulf of Oman115,000
9IRENES SERENADE1980Navarino Bay, Greece100,000
10URQUIOLA 1976La Coruna, Spain100,000
11HAWAIIAN PATRIOT1977300 nautical miles off Honolulu95,000
12INDEPENDENTA1979Bosphorus, Turkey94,000
13JAKOB MAERSK1975Oporto, Portugal88,000
14BRAER 1993Shetland Islands, UK85,000
15AEGEAN SEA1992La Coruna, Spain74,000
16SEA EMPRESS1996Milford Haven, UK72000
17KHARK 51989120 nautical miles off Atlantic coast of Morocco70,000
18NOVA1985Off Kharg Island, Gulf of Iran70,000
19KATINA P1992Off Maputo, Mozambique67,000
20PRESTIGE2002Off Galicia, Spain63,000
35EXXON VALDEZ 1989Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA37,000
131HEBEI SPIRIT2007South Korea11,000
Location of major spills