The World's Worst Oil Spills

Published Jan 17, 2011 4:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

This list includes some of the world's worst oil spills, including tanker collisions, drilling rig failures and even a deliberate spill.

Arabian Gulf/Kuwait - January 19, 1991
Location: Persian Gulf, Kuwait
Amount of Oil Spilled: 380-520 million gallons

During the Gulf War, Iraqi forces, attempting to prevent the landing of American soldiers, opened the valves at an offshore oil terminal and dumped oil from several tankers. The oil they released created a 4-inch thick oil slick that covered 4000 square miles.

Deepwater Horizon- April 20, 2010 – July 15, 2010
Location: Gulf of Mexico
Amount of Oil Spilled: 205.8 million gallons

BP’s leased rig the Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20th causing a ruptured wellhead. Between fifty and sixty thousand barrels of oil spewed into the gulf per day for almost 3 months. Several attempts were made to cap the 5,000-ft deep well, and after months of trial and error the well was finally capped on July 15th, making it the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Ixtoc 1 Oil Spill- June 3, 1979 - March 23, 1980
Location: Bay of Campeche off Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico
Amount of Oil Spilled: 140 million gallons

Pemex, a state-owned Mexican petroleum company was drilling an oil well when a blowout occurred. The oil ignited causing the drilling rig to collapse. Oil began gushing out of the well into the Gulf of Mexico at a rate of 10,000 to 30,000 barrels a day for almost an entire year before workers were finally able to cap the well and stop the leak.

Atlantic Empress Oil Spill - July 19, 1979
Location: Off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago
Amount of Oil Spilled: 90 million gallons

This Greek oil tanker was caught in a tropical storm and collided with another ship, the Aegean Captain. The damaged ship continued to lose oil before finally sinking on August 3,1979.

Fergana Valley- March 1992
Amount of Oil Spilled: 88 million gallons

The area is mostly based in agriculture, but has been producing oil since 1908 and continues to be one of the most active energy and oil refining centers in Uzbekistan. The US Department of Energy estimates that prior to the spill there was about 4.5 billion barrels of oil in the Fergana basin.

Kolva River Oil Spill- September 8, 1994
Location: Kolva River, Russia
Amount of Oil Spilled: 84 million gallons

A ruptured pipeline had been leaking for eight months, but the oil was contained by a dike. When the dike collapsed, it sent millions of gallons of oil into the Russian Arctic.

Nowruz Oil Field Spill - February 10 to September 18, 1983
Location: Persian Gulf, Iran
Amount of Oil Spilled: 80 million gallons

This spill was the result of a tanker collision with an oil platform. The platform was damaged and as a result closed down. Eventually the weakened platform collapsed sending oil spewing into the Persian Gulf. Capping the leak was delayed by the ongoing Iraq-Iran War.

Castillo de Bellver Oil Spill - August 6, 1983
Location: Saldanha Bay, South Africa
Amount of Oil Spilled: 79 million gallons

The Castillo de Bellver caught fire approximately 70 miles north west of Cape Town, South Africa. The ship drifted before breaking in two 25 miles off the coast. The ships stern sank in deep water still carrying approximately 31 million gallons of oil. The bow section, was towed away and deliberately sunk.

Amoco Cadiz Oil Spill - March 16, 1978
Location: Portsall, France
Amount of Oil Spilled: 69 million gallons

One of the most notorious oil spills in history, the Amoco Cadiz was caught in a fierce winter storm that damaged its rudder. The ship put out a distress call that it was no longer able to maneuver. Several ships responded, but none were able to stop the massive ship from running aground. On March 17th, the gigantic supertanker broke in two sending all of its 69 million gallons of oil into the English Channel. The ship was later sunk by the French.

ABT Summer Oil Spill - May 28, 1991
Location: approximately 700 nautical miles off the coast of Angola
Amount of Oil Spilled: 51-81 million gallons

This ship exploded off the coast of Angola creating an oil leak that discharged massive quantities of oil into the ocean.

M/T Haven Tanker Oil Spill - April 11, 1991
Location: Genoa, Italy
Amount of Oil Spilled: 45 million gallons

This oil tanker exploded and sank off the coast of Italy killing six people and leaking its remaining oil into the Mediterranean for 12 years after the sinking. The source of the explosion was alleged to be the poor state of repair the ship was in. Supposedly the Haven was scrapped after being hit by a missile during the Iran-Iraq War and then put back into operation.

Odyssey Oil Spill - November 10, 1988
Location: off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada
Amount of Oil Spilled: 40.7 million gallons

This spill occurred approximately 700 nautical miles off the coast of Newfoundland.

The Sea Star Oil Spill- December 19, 1972
Location: Gulf of Oman
Amount of Oil Spilled: 35.3 million gallons

The South Korean supertanker, Sea Star, collided with a Brazilian tanker, the Horta Barbosa off the coast of Oman.

The Torrey Canyon Oil Spill- March 18, 1967
Location: Scilly Isles, UK
Amount of Oil Spilled: 25 - 36 million gallons

The Torrey Canyon was one of the first big supertankers originally designed to carry 60,000 tons, but it was later enlarged to a 120,000-ton capacity. She was carrying this full capacity of oil when she struck a reef off the coast of Cornwall.

Exxon Valdez - March 24, 1989
Location: Prince William Sound, Alaska
Amount of Oil Spilled: 10.8 million gallons

The tanker Exxon Valdez, en route from Valdez, Alaska to Los Angeles, California, ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The vessel was traveling outside normal shipping lanes in an attempt to avoid ice. Within six hours of the grounding, the Exxon Valdez spilled approximately 10.9 million gallons of its 53 million gallon cargo of Prudhoe Bay crude oil.

Sources: Associated Content, History.com, NST, Foreign Policy