The Top 11 Worst Oil Spills That Have Caused the Most Damage in History

Oil spills frequently occur worldwide, causing environmental damage and devastating wildlife. However, the worst oil spills have caused catastrophic damage to the environment, wildlife, and the economy. This article will dive into the top 11 worst oil spills in history. 

Worst Oil Spills by Rank

11. The Oddysey, 1988

Oil spilt: 132,000 tons

In November 1988, 700 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia, the American oil tanker Odyssey busted in two. The ship spilled around 132,000 tons of crude oil into the ocean before catching fire as it sunk, igniting the disaster. Due to adverse weather conditions, the Canadian Coast Guard could not reach the oil spill. However, much of the oil was burnt and a few tons remained in the sea.

oil spill on the shore

10. The Haven, 1991

Oil spilt: 145,00 tons

This oil ship exploded and sunk off the coast of Italy, killing six people and releasing oil into the Mediterranean for twelve years. Poor ship maintenance was assumed to be the cause of the explosion. The Haven was wrecked after being struck by a missile during the Iran-Iraq War, although it was later put back into service. The Haven spill caused over $4 million in damage. It also led to new sea buoys regulations and increased oil rig inspections.

9. The Amoco Cadiz, 1978

Oil spilt: 223,000 tons

The Amoco Cadiz, a “very large crude carrier” (VLCC), was trapped in a winter storm, causing damage to the ship’s rudder. Although multiple boats responded to the ship’s distress signal, none were able to save it from hitting straight into the ground. Its steering wheel malfunctioned, and the sailboat collided with the Portsall Rocks off the coast of Brittany.

The supertanker split in two, spilling 194 million gallons of oil into the English Channel. The ensuing slick was 80 miles long and 18 miles broad. Following the event, 19 studies found “huge mortalities” among intertidal crabs, nereid worms, mollusks, and limpets. More than 3,200 dead birds from 30 different species were collected.

8. Castillo de Believer, 1983

Oil spilt: 252,000 tons

In August 1983, a sudden fire inside the Castillo de Bellver led to an intense explosion that split the tanker in half. 252,00 tons of oil spilled into the water 24 meters away from Cape Town, making it one of the largest oil spills in South Africa ever recorded. Fortunately, the oil did less environmental harm since the wind blew it offshore, where it evaporated on its own naturally.

7. ABT Summer Oil Spill, 1991

Oil spilt: 260,000 tons

On June 28, 1991, the oil tanker ship ABT Summer exploded mysteriously just off the coast of Angola. The ABT Summer spilled massive amounts of oil into the ocean, which caused a long-lasting environmental disaster. The tanker was surrounded by an 80-square-mile oil slick that burned for three days before its sinking on June 1, 1991. Five of the 32 crew members on board are killed. 

6. Nowruz Oil Field, 1983

Oil spilt: 260,000 tons

On February 10, 1983, a tanker collided and collapsed during the Iran – Iraq War, spewing around 1,500 barrels each day until March, when Iraqi aircraft assaulted the platform, the oil slick caught fire. The Nowruz oil field was in the center of the Iran-Iraq conflict zone, so it was not immediately secured. Iran ultimately capped the well in September of that year, resulting in the deaths of eleven individuals.

5. Komi Pipeline Oil Spill, 1994

Oil spilt: 276,000 tons

In August 1994, The energy-rich Komi area had one of the greatest oil disasters in Russian history when its outdated pipeline network leaked 79,000 tonnes or 585,000 barrels according to official sources. Independent estimates, however, put the damage at 2,000,000 oil barrels or 276,000 tons of crude oil. The pipeline leak was one of the worst disasters in decades, and it caused massive damage to the local environment.

The spill also affected the ecosystem around the pipeline. The oil stretched across 170 acres of streams, fragile bogs, and marshland. Below the ground, the oil seeped into the groundwater and lakes, rivers, and streams. This caused contamination of water sources, which affected the ecosystem and food chain in the area.

worst oil spills

4.  Atlantic Empress Oil Spill, 1979

Oil spilt: 287,000 tons

Amid a tropical storm off the coast of Trinidad and Tobago, the Greek oil tanker Atlantic Empress collided with another tanker, the Aegean Captain. The Aegean Captain started leaking oil, and the Atlantic Empress caught fire, which resulted in the deaths of 26 sailors.

The Atlantic Empress, which was on fire, was towed toward the open sea so ships could quickly help extinguish the fire. Even while it was being pulled to Curacao, it continued to seep oil slowly over the following days. It slowly fell into the deep water over the next two weeks. The rest of the cargo solidified after it sank.

3. Ixtoc I Oil Spill, 1979

Oil spilt: 454,000 tons

In June 1979, the Ixtoc I oil well in the Gulf of Mexico burst. The platform caught fire and collapsed, fracturing valves and making it impossible for emergency workers to contain the damage. The release lasted until March 1980. This oil spill contaminated sandy beaches, mangroves, coastal lagoons, and waterways. It impacted marine species, including shrimp, octopuses, and Kemp’s ridley turtles.

2. Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

Oil spilt: 713,000 tons

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster is the most significant unintentional spill in history. It started when an oil well a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico exploded, triggering an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig owned by BP. The blast claimed 11 lives.

For over 85 days, oil spilled from the ruptured well, contaminating 572 miles of the Gulf shoreline and killing hundreds of birds and marine life. The long-term repercussions of the oil and the 2 million gallons leaked on this delicate ecology are unknown, but scientists believe they will devastate the Gulf coast for many years.

cargo oil spills

1. Gulf War oil spill, 1991

Oil Spilt: 1,360,000 -1,500,000 tons

The Persian Gulf oil spill, often known as the Arabian Gulf or Gulf War spill, was the worst oil spill in history since it was intended as a defensive measure. In 1991, when Iraqi troops retreated from Kuwait, they opened the valves of oil wells and pipelines, releasing an estimated 8 million barrels of oil into the Persian Gulf. The oil slick stretched 101 miles by 42 miles and was five inches thick.

For three months, oil continued to leak into the Gulf at a rate of 6,000 barrels per day. Even though wartime conditions impeded cleanup operations, the majority had been removed by July. A year later, oil continued to leak into the ocean from coastal sediments.

Author’s Note

This list demonstrated the vast damage that oil spills cause to the environment and the lives and wildlife that inhabit it. These incidents remind us that we must be cautious when operating in such harsh environments and ask ourselves: “How can we hope to live a life of happiness and longevity in all the bounty of the sea if we destroy it?? This list is just some of the many oil spills that have occurred today. Some of these spills were contained, and some were not. If our actions continue to pollute the planet, many more oil spills will happen in the future.

Continue Reading: Top 10 Largest Landfills in the World, Threat of Trawl Fishing, Environmental Organizations

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