(www.MaritimeCyprus.com) 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 from tankers in 2021
For the year 2021, one large spill (>700 tonnes) and five medium spills (7-700 tonnes) were recorded. The large spill occurred in Asia and the medium spills occurred in Africa, Asia and North America. This is a small increase on 2020, when four spills ≥7 tonnes were recorded, but on a par with the annual average for the 2010s. (This data relates to spills with confirmed volumes.)
Quantity of oil spilt from tanker incidents in 2021
The total volume of oil lost to the environment from tanker spills in 2021 was approximately 10,000 tonnes. This is higher than the previous two years and is largely attributed to the one large incident recorded.
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 in Figure 1 below.
The average number of spills per year in the 1970s was approximately 79. This decreased by over 90% to 6 in the 2010s. So far this decade, the annual average is 5.
Global oil tanker spills by volume 1970-2021
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.
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