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Oil Tanker Spill Statistics 2020
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. Historically, information from published sources mostly related to large spills, often resulting from collisions, groundings, structural damage, fires or explosions. In recent decades, however, reporting of smaller spills has improved.
Number of oil spills in 2020
For the year 2020, we recorded zero large spills (>700 tonnes) and three medium spills (7–700 tonnes).
The first medium spill occurred early in the year in Europe and the other two occurred in the last quarter of the year in Africa and Asia.
This is the same number of spills >7 tonnes as recorded in 2019 and remains the lowest number in any particular year since 1970.
(This data relates to spills with confirmed volumes.)
Quantity of oil spilt in 2020
The total volume of oil lost to the environment from tanker spills in 2020 was approximately 1,000 tonnes. This is the same quantity as recorded in 2012 and 2019, and the lowest annual figure recorded in the last five decades.
Global oil spill trend
Over the past half century, statistics for the frequency of spills greater than 7 tonnes from tankers have shown a marked downward trend, as illustrated below.
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.
We regret that it is not possible to provide direct access to our database or to release the names of individual tanker incidents.
Tanker spills from 1970 to 2020
The number of large spills (>700 tonnes) has decreased significantly over the last few decades. The yearly average recorded in the 2010s was 1.8 spills, which is less than a tenth of the average recorded in the 1970s. No large spills were recorded in 2020.
Similarly, there has been a significant decrease in the quantity of oil spilled through the decades. In the 2010s approximately 164,000 tonnes of oil were lost from tanker spills of 7 tonnes and above, a 95% reduction since the 1970s.
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 2020 illustrate fluctuations in the yearly values within a decade. A continuation of long-term decline can also be seen with medium sized spills (7–700 tonnes). The average number of spills per year last decade was 4.5, which is below a tenth of the average recorded in the 1970s.
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).
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 2010s there were 63 spills of 7 tonnes and over, resulting in 164,000 tonnes of oil lost; 91% of this amount was spilt in just 10 incidents. One incident was responsible for about 70% of the quantity of oil spilt.
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; ABT SUMMER (1991), 260,000 tonnes spilt; and SANCHI (2018), 113,000 tonnes spilt.
Causes of large oil spills
In the period 1970 to 2020, 50% of large spills occurred while the vessels were underway in open water; allisions, collisions and groundings accounted for 58% of the causes of these spills. These same causes account for an even higher percentage of spills (99%) when the vessels were underway in inland or restricted waters.
Major Oil Spills in History
A summary of the 20 largest tanker 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. SANCHI, the latest addition to the list, is the only major spill of non-persistent oil featured here and it resulted in significantly lower environmental impacts compared to some crude oil spills listed.
A number of the 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.
PRESTIGE, EXXON VALDEZ and HEBEI SPIRIT are included for comparison although these incidents are further down the list.
Top 20 Major Spills Table
|1||ATLANTIC EMPRESS||1979||Off Tobago, West Indies||287,000|
|2||ABT SUMMER||1991||700 nautical miles off Angola||260,000|
|3||CASTILLO DE BELLVER||1983||Off Saldanha Bay, South Africa||252,000|
|4||AMOCO CADIZ||1978||Off Brittany, France||223,000|
|6||ODYSSEY||1988||700 nautical miles off Nova Scotia, Canada||132,000|
|7||TORREY CANYON||1967||Scilly Isles, UK||119,000|
|8||SEA STAR||1972||Gulf of Oman||115,000|
|9||SANCHI||2018||Off Shanghai, China||113,000|
|10||IRENES SERENADE||1980||Navarino Bay, Greece||100,000|
|11||URQUIOLA||1976||La Coruna, Spain||100,000|
|12||HAWAIIAN PATRIOT||1977||300 nautical miles off Honolulu||95,000|
|14||JAKOB MAERSK||1975||Oporto, Portugal||88,000|
|15||BRAER||1993||Shetland Islands, UK||85,000|
|16||AEGEAN SEA||1992||La Coruna, Spain||74,000|
|17||SEA EMPRESS||1996||Milford Haven, UK||72000|
|18||KHARK 5||1989||120 nautical miles off Atlantic coast of Morocco||70,000|
|19||NOVA||1985||Off Kharg Island, Gulf of Iran||70,000|
|20||KATINA P||1992||Off Maputo, Mozambique||67,000|
|21||PRESTIGE||2002||Off Galicia, Spain||63,000|
|36||EXXON VALDEZ||1989||Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA||37,000|
|132||HEBEI SPIRIT||2007||South Korea||11,000|