Oil Tanker Spill Statistics 2015


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 2015

Number of large spills (>700 tonnes) from 1970 to 2015

Two large spills (>700 tonnes) were recorded for 2015. Both releases of oil occurred as a result of a collision. The first, in Singapore in January, resulted in a spill of approximately 4,500 tonnes of crude oil and the second in Turkey in June resulted in a spill of approximately 1,400 tonnes of naphtha. ITOPF provided technical advice to the vessels' insurers in both incidents.

For the last three and a half decades the average number of incidents involving large oil spills from tankers has reduced progressively and since 2010 stands at an average of 1.8 large oil spills per year.

Six medium spills (i.e. between 7 and 700 tonnes) of various oils were also recorded for 2015 including cargoes of asphalt, naphtha and slurry oil, as well as bunker fuels. Whilst this is slightly higher than the average of medium sized spills for this decade, it is still far below the averages for previous decades.

Read our full Oil Tanker Spill Statistics pack

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 2015

The total recorded amount of oil lost to the environment in 2015 was approximately 7,000 tonnes, the vast majority of which can be attributed to the two large spills (>700 tonnes) recorded in January and June.

Quantities of oil spilt 7 tonnes and over (rounded to nearest thousand) 1970 to 2015

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 2014 (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 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 six year period 2010-2015 there have been 42 spills of 7 tonnes and over, resulting in 33,000 tonnes of oil lost; 86% 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.

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 2015, 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.

Incidence of spills >700 tonnes by operation at
time of incident and primary cause of spill, 1970-2015.
(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