Oil Tanker Spill Statistics 2014


ITOPF maintains a database of oil spills from tankers, combined carriers and barges. This contains information on accidental spillages since 1970, except those resulting from acts of war.

The data held includes the type of oil spilt, the spill amount, the cause and location of the incident and the vessel involved. 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 nearly 10,000 incidents, the vast majority of which (81%) fall into the smallest category i.e. <7 tonnes.

Information is gathered from both 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 on site at incidents. Unsurprisingly, information from published sources generally relates to large spills, often resulting from collisions, groundings, structural damage, fires or explosions, whereas the majority of individual reports relate to small, operational spillages. Reliable reporting of small spills (<7 tonnes) is often difficult to achieve.

 If you require further information on tanker spill statistics, please contact Susannah Musk (susannahmusk@dont-want-spam.itopf.com).

Number of Oil Spills in 2014

Number of large spills (>700 tonnes) from 1970 to 2014

One large spill (>700 tonnes) was recorded in 2014. In January a small tanker sank in the South China Sea loaded with a cargo of appoximately 3,000 tonnes of bitumen. Four medium spills of various oils, including crude oil, were also recorded, totalling five spills of 7 tonnes and over. This figure is still far below the averages for previous decades and is in line with the trend of the last four years.

We have also recorded several incidents involving fires and explosions onboard tankers with potentially large and medium sized quantities of cargoes and bunker fuel burned. It has not been possible to determine the exact quantities burned, and so they have not been included in our final numbers of spills for 2014.

Read our full Oil Tanker Spill Statistics pack here

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 based on the most up to date information. From time to time, data is received after publication, in which case adjustment to previous entries may be made. Consequently, the figures and data shown and any averages derived should be viewed with an element of caution.

Quantities of Oil Spilt in 2014

The total recorded amount of oil lost to the environment in 2014 was approximately 4,000 tonnes, the vast majority of which can be attributed to one large spill (>700 tonnes) recorded in January in the South China Sea.

Quantities of oil spilt 7 tonnes and over (rounded to nearest thousand) 1970 to 2014

Seaborne Oil Trade

While increased movements might imply increased risk, it is encouraging to observe that downward trends in oil spills continue despite an overall increase in oil trading since the mid-1980s.  

Seaborne oil trade and number of tanker spills 7 tonnes and over,
1970 to 2013 (Crude and Oil Product *)
* Product vessels of 60,000 DWT and above . Barges excluded.

Large 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 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 1,133,000 tonnes of oil lost; 73% of this amount was spilt in just 10 incidents.
  • In the 2000s there were 179 spills of 7 tonnes and over, resulting in 208,000 tonnes of oil lost; 55% of this amount was spilt in just 4 incidents.
  • In the five year period 2010-2014 there have been 35 spills of 7 tonnes and over, resulting in 26,000 tonnes of oil lost; 90% of this amount was spilt in just nine incidents.

Over the last two and a half decades, the average number of spills greater than 7 tonnes has progressively reduced by half. In terms of the volume of oil spilt, the figures for a particular year may be severely distorted by a single large incident.

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 2014, 50% of large spills occurred while the vessels were underway in open water. During this type of operation, 59% were caused by allisions, collisions and groundings. These same causes accounted 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, 1970-2014.
(One bunkering incident occurred in this size category but has not been included in this figure)

Major Oil Spills

A brief summary of the top 20 major oil spills that have occurred since the TORREY CANYON in 1967 are shown below; it is of note that 19 of the largest spills recorded occurred before the year 2000. A number of these incidents, despite their large size, caused little or no environmental damage as the oil was spilt some distance offshore and did not impact coastlines. It is for this reason that some of the names listed may be unfamiliar. EXXON VALDEZ and HEBEI SPIRIT are included for comparison although these incidents fall some way outside the group in terms of volume spilt.

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
Tanker Top 20 Incidents Map