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Oil Tanker Spill Statistics 2016
ITOPF maintains a database of oil spills from tankers, combined carriers and barges. This contains information on accidental spillages of persistent and non-persistent oil 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 approximately 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.
Number of Oil Spills in 2016
In 2016, one large tanker spill (>700 tonnes) was recorded. This occurred in September in the Gulf of Mexico and involved cargoes of gasoline and diesel. Approximately 5,500 tonnes of oil was burnt in the explosion which sparked a fire. ITOPF attended this incident on site and provided technical advice in support of the response on behalf of the shipowner and his insurers.
Four medium-sized spills (7-700 tonnes) were also reported in 2016. The first was recorded in January at a port in South America, where crude oil was spilt during loading operations. The second incident was recorded in Malaysia in August and involved marine fuel oil which was also spilt during loading operations. ITOPF provided technical advice in both cases. The remaining two, which both resulted in fires, were reported in the last quarter of the year in the USA and China.
Quantities of oil spilt in 2016
The total amount of oil lost to the environment through tanker incidents in 2016 was approximately 6,000 tonnes, the majority of which can be attributed to the large spill (>700 tonnes) recorded in September.
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.
Tanker spills from 1970 to 2016
There has been a downward trend in numbers of large oil spills, i.e. greater than 700 tonnes, from tankers annually. The average number of tanker incidents involving large oil spills, has progressively reduced and since 2010 stands at an average of 1.7 per year.
It is interesting to note that the progressive reduction in number of large spills is significant when data is analysed per decade rather than annually as demonstrated in the figure below. Data recorded from 1970 to 2016 show there can be fluctuations in the yearly values within a decade.
A decline can also be observed with medium-sized spills (7-700 tonnes). The average number of spills per year in the 1990s was 28.1, reducing to 14.9 in the 2000s and is currently 5 for the 2010s (not a complete decade).
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 (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 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 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 seven year period 2010-2016 there have been 47 spills of 7 tonnes and over, resulting in 39,000 tonnes of oil lost; 83% 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.
Causes of Large Oil Spills
In the period 1970 to 2016, nearly 50% of large spills occurred while the vessels were underway in open water; allisions, collisions and groundings accounted for 59% of the causes for these spills. 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.
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
|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||IRENES SERENADE||1980||Navarino Bay, Greece||100,000|
|10||URQUIOLA||1976||La Coruna, Spain||100,000|
|11||HAWAIIAN PATRIOT||1977||300 nautical miles off Honolulu||95,000|
|13||JAKOB MAERSK||1975||Oporto, Portugal||88,000|
|14||BRAER||1993||Shetland Islands, UK||85,000|
|15||AEGEAN SEA||1992||La Coruna, Spain||74,000|
|16||SEA EMPRESS||1996||Milford Haven, UK||72000|
|17||KHARK 5||1989||120 nautical miles off Atlantic coast of Morocco||70,000|
|18||NOVA||1985||Off Kharg Island, Gulf of Iran||70,000|
|19||KATINA P||1992||Off Maputo, Mozambique||67,000|
|20||PRESTIGE||2002||Off Galicia, Spain||63,000|
|35||EXXON VALDEZ||1989||Prince William Sound, Alaska, USA||37,000|
|131||HEBEI SPIRIT||2007||South Korea||11,000|