Tanker spill statistics 2021

12 January 2022

Tanker spill statistics 2021

Data from ITOPF shows that six oil spills over 7 tonnes were recorded from tanker incidents in 2021. This is a slight increase on 2020, but on a par with the average for the 2010s and a dramatic reduction from the numbers reported in earlier decades, see attached graph below.

Only one of the six incidents in 2021 resulted in a spill greater than 700 tonnes (classified as a ‘large’ spill). This occurred in Asia in April and involved heavy crude oil.  

The other five incidents (classified as ‘medium’ spills) involved crude, slurry and non-persistent oils.

The total volume of oil lost to the environment from tanker spills in 2021 was approximately 10,000 tonnes, the majority of which was spilt in the one large incident. This figure is higher than the previous two years but remains a fraction of the 1.7 billion tonnes[1] of oil that is transported by sea each year.  

Despite some annual fluctuations, the number and volume of oil spills from tankers has plummeted since ITOPF’s records began half a century ago and is largely stabilising at a low level. This reduction has been driven by positive change from the shipping industry, supported by governments, and their ongoing commitment to exploring and investing in ways to improve maritime safety and environmental protection.

It is important to note that although ITOPF attends incidents from all types of ship, for historical reasons our annual statistics publication reports incidents involving tankers only. Accidents involving non-tank vessels which carry oil as bunker fuel, such as container ships, bulk carriers and general cargo ships, may also be a source of pollution.  Other non-shipping sources, such as pipeline spills and oil industry activities, as well as natural seepage, also contribute towards the global input of oil into the marine environment.

For further information, please visit our Statistics page. The full report will be available on our website shortly.

[1] This figure is for crude oil only and does not include petroleum products. Source: Review of Maritime Transport 2021 | UNCTAD

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