Have you ever been curious about history of oil spills? Or wonder what was the most famous or the largest oil spill in history? Do you know all the facts like Exxon Valdez‘s Captain, Joesph Hazelwood, never had his captains license revoked and it remains valid to this date?

To put the recent Deepwater Horizon and Cosco Busan oil spills in historic perspective, here are ten of the world’s largest oil spills in world history.


Oil Spill France - Amaco Cadiz Oil Tanker Amoco Cadiz
The Amoco Cadiz encountered stormy weather and ran aground off the coast of Brittany, France on March 16, 1978. Its entire cargo of 68.7 million gallons of oil spilled into the sea, polluting about 200 miles of Brittany’s coastline.
Arabian Gulf Oil Spills Arabian Gulf Spills
Beginning in late January of the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqi Army destroyed tankers, oil terminals, and oil wells in Kuwait, causing the release of about 900,000,000 barrels of oil. This was the largest oil spill in history.
Argo Merchant Oil Spill Argo Merchant
On December 15, 1976, the Argo Merchant ran aground on Fishing Rip (Nantucket Shoals), 29 nautical miles southeast of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts in high winds and ten foot seas. Six days later, the vessel broke apart and spilled its entire cargo of 7.7 million gallons of No. 6 fuel oil.
Bouchard Towing 155 Oil Spill Barge Bouchard 155
On August 10, 1993, three ships collided in Tampa Bay, Florida: the barge Bouchard 155, the freighter Balsa 37, and the barge Ocean 255. The Bouchard 155 spilled an estimated 336,000 gallons of No. 6 fuel oil into Tampa Bay.
Cibro Savannah Oil Spill Barge Cibro Savannah
On March 6, 1990, the Cibro Savannah exploded and caught fire while departing the pier at the Citgo facility in Linden, New Jersey. About 127,000 gallons of oil remained unaccounted for after the incident. No one knows how much oil burned and how much spilled into the environment.
Burmah Agate Burmah Agate
On November 1, 1979, the Burmah Agate collided with the freighter Mimosa southeast of Galveston Entrance in the Gulf of Mexico. The collision caused an explosion and a fire on the Burmah Agate that burned until January 8, 1980. An estimated 2.6 million gallons of oil were released into the environment, and another 7.8 million gallons were consumed by the fire.
Exxon Valdez Exxon Valdez
On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The tanker was traveling outside the normal shipping lanes in an attempt to avoid ice. It spilled 10.8 million gallons of oil (out of a total cargo of 53 million gallons) into the marine environment, and impacted more than 1,100 miles of non-continuous Alaskan coastline. State and Federal agencies continue to monitor the effects of this spill, which was the largest oil spill in U.S. history.
ITOX Oil Spill Ixtoc I
The 2-mile-deep exploratory well, Ixtoc I, blew out on June 3, 1979 in the Bay of Campeche off Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico. By the time the well was brought under control in March, 1980, an estimated 140 million gallons of oil had spilled into the bay. The Ixtoc I spill is currently #2 on the all-time list of largest oil spills of all time.
Tanker Jupiter Oil Spill Michigan Jupiter
On September 16, 1990, the tank vessel Jupiter was offloading gasoline at a refinery on the Saginaw River near Bay City, Michigan, when a fire started on board and the vessel exploded.
Worst Oil Spill In History Megaborg Megaborg
The Megaborg released 5.1 million gallons of oil as the result of a lightering accident and subsequent fire. The incident occurred 60 nautical miles south-southeast of Galveston, Texas on June 8, 1990.

Source: NOAA


UPDATE: The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill has become the largest in US history. Click HERE for the first webpage ever to post information on the Transocean / BP rig’s explosion.

For more information on Historic Oil Spills and the current Deepwater Horizon incident read the gCaptain Blog.

You can also join the discussion at our gCaptain Forum.

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  • http://capdiamont.wordpress.com/ capdiamont

    What do these sites look like today? What was the total environmental effect?

  • http://capdiamont.wordpress.com/ capdiamont

    What do these sites look like today? What was the total environmental effect?

  • Pingback: All time worst oil spills « Capdiamont’s Weblog()

  • Chris Allport

    If you want to view a really comprehensive tabulation of the all time worst oil spills why not take a look at the Center for Tankship eXcellence database on:- http://www.c4tx.org/ctx/job/cdb/search.html

    This site really puts some perspective into some of the events displayed.

  • http://gcaptain.com John

    Wow, great find. Thanks, Chris.

  • http://gcaptain.com John

    Wow, great find. Thanks, Chris.

  • Chris Allport

    Approaching 50 years in the maritime industry I am minded to seriously consider indicators which alert us to areas of concern. When I found the CTX website with the spill database I also found Jack Devanny’s book ‘The Tankship Tromedy’ which you can download or order in print from Amazon. Having met and having high regard for others of unbending principals, such as Captain Richard Cahill with his books on Collisions, Groundings and Maritime Disasters , I look closely at these professionals who are alerting the industry to potential catastrophes. I still have a passion for the industry in which I spent my whole career and care for it’s safe future. When I hear dedicated maritime professionals like Richard and Jack raise very serious concerns about the regulatory bodies it is time to take notice. In his book Jack Devanney demonstrates conclusively that the majority of tanker casualties resulting in catastrophic pollutions are due to hull structural failures. I support his findings. If these structural failures can be eliminated then we would cut the volume of oil spilled and more importantly the tanker casualty deaths by half. I recommend those of similar mind to read his book. Brgds Chris Allport

  • Chris Allport

    Approaching 50 years in the maritime industry I am minded to seriously consider indicators which alert us to areas of concern. When I found the CTX website with the spill database I also found Jack Devanny’s book ‘The Tankship Tromedy’ which you can download or order in print from Amazon. Having met and having high regard for others of unbending principals, such as Captain Richard Cahill with his books on Collisions, Groundings and Maritime Disasters , I look closely at these professionals who are alerting the industry to potential catastrophes. I still have a passion for the industry in which I spent my whole career and care for it’s safe future. When I hear dedicated maritime professionals like Richard and Jack raise very serious concerns about the regulatory bodies it is time to take notice. In his book Jack Devanney demonstrates conclusively that the majority of tanker casualties resulting in catastrophic pollutions are due to hull structural failures. I support his findings. If these structural failures can be eliminated then we would cut the volume of oil spilled and more importantly the tanker casualty deaths by half. I recommend those of similar mind to read his book. Brgds Chris Allport

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  • http://timstimes.net Tim

    The Torrey Canyon deserves a mention also, not just for the spill, but the balls up of a clean up operation involving chemicals and firebombing. It was the spill that helped create the CLC 1969. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torrey_Canyon

  • http://timstimes.net Tim

    The Torrey Canyon deserves a mention also, not just for the spill, but the balls up of a clean up operation involving chemicals and firebombing. It was the spill that helped create the CLC 1969. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torrey_Canyon

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Herrylaw Herrylaw

    Thanks Chris for the link to the CTX database and the discussion about it written so cogently by Jack Devanny. I had been going to point out that this list of history's most famous spills is somewhat idiosyncratic and that the best listing of spills involving ships comes from the ITOPF website http://www.itopf.com/information-services/data-an

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Herrylaw Herrylaw

    Thanks Chris for the link to the CTX database and the discussion about it written so cogently by Jack Devanny. I had been going to point out that this list of history's most famous spills is somewhat idiosyncratic and that the best listing of spills involving ships comes from the ITOPF website http://www.itopf.com/information-services/data-an

  • http://www.ayrescom.com/ composite panels

    I can't believe no one was convicted in the Barge Bouchard 155 accident, three ships collided at least one pilot was in the wrong here?

  • http://www.ayrescom.com composite panels

    I can't believe no one was convicted in the Barge Bouchard 155 accident, three ships collided at least one pilot was in the wrong here?

  • Chelsea

    When exactly was this sites year of publication

  • Chelsea

    When exactly was this sites year of publication

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