Our History


ITOPF was established in 1968 in the wake of the TORREY CANYON oil spill. Its original function was the administration of an oil spill compensation scheme.

The TORREY CANYON was one of the world’s first supertankers. In 1967 it grounded off the south west coast of England and spilled 119,000 tonnes of crude oil. This was the biggest oil spill to date and focused world attention on the problems associated with major tanker incidents. 

At that time, the law relating to oil pollution was undeveloped and recovery of costs and claims for pollution damage depended broadly on proving that the shipowner was negligent.

The pollution damage and publicity following this incident provided the catalyst for the world’s tanker owners to create a voluntary scheme to ensure that compensation was available to those affected by oil pollution. The scheme was set out in an agreement known as the Tanker Owners Voluntary Agreement concerning Liability for Oil Pollution (TOVALOP).  ITOPF was originally established for the purpose of administering this scheme.

The administration of TOVALOP remained an integral part of our activities for more than 25 years until the scheme’s termination in 1997.  

TORREY CANYON, grounded off England in 1967

Technical Services

During the 1970s, ITOPF developed its technical services function and established a team of well qualified scientists able to offer around the clock technical support to tanker owners, their P&I insurers and other groups.

This was prompted by the high incidence of major tanker spills, which underlined the need for a specialised group to provide advice on the fate and effects of oil spills and response techniques.

This work also included objectively assessing the technical reasonableness of clean-up measures and claims for compensation.

Despite the dramatic reduction in major oil spills since the end of the 1970s, growing environmental concerns and media coverage meant that demand for ITOPF’s expertise and impartiality in this field remained strong.

ITOPF’s experience also led to a broadening of its work to include advisory services (such as assisting governments and industry with contingency planning), training, education and the provision of information. 

Managing and Technical Directors of ITOPF through the years

Not Just Tanker Owners

ITOPF has been providing its key service of emergency response to tanker owners since the 1970s. From 1999 this service was formally extended to the owners of other types of ship as well.

During the 1990s the growing awareness of oil pollution from container ships, general cargo ships and other non-tank vessels, plus the development of the Bunkers Convention, led to a change in our structure and funding.

From February 1999, owners of ships other than tankers were eligible to become Associates of ITOPF and also have access to our technical services.

More recently, the pollution potential of substances other than oil, primarily chemicals, and the development of corresponding international conventions, e.g. the HNS Convention, has led to an increase in demand for our expertise in these areas.

Over the years, we have also provided advice on spills of other substances, including vegetable oils, cereals, coal and containerised cargoes.

During the last half century, ITOPF has attended over 800 incidents in 100 countries, including landmark cases such as AMOCO CADIZ, EXXON VALDEZ, BRAER, SEA EMPRESS, ERIKA, PRESTIGE and HEBEI SPIRIT. 

Containership GODAFOSS grounded
in Norway in February 2011