11 Biggest and Worst Oil Spills in World History

Oil spills constitute the biggest concerns of pollution in the marine world. They have lead to the destruction of aquatic systems and the death of thousands of marine species. For a long time now, they are considered environmental and commercial catastrophes as the consequences last long after the cleanup operations.

Regardless of the efforts and technological measures put in place to prevent oil spills, the world has still been tormented by major oil spill disasters again and again. They can also happen on land contaminating ground water and the soil. Here are some of the catastrophic and biggest and worst oil spills in world history.

1. Gulf War Oil Spill

The Gulf war oil spill is recorded as one of the biggest deliberate spills in world history. It happened during the Gulf War in Jan 1991 when US air strikes launched attack on Bagdad’s oil tankers. The Iraqi soldiers were also trying to block American forces from landing by dumping oil from tankers and opening offshore terminal valves.

In the strike, two of the oil tankers were badly destroyed resulting in biggest oil spill ever. More than 330 million gallons of oil was estimated to have been released into the Persian Gulf. The oil slick was about 4 inches stretching across 4,000 square miles causing the suffering of hundreds of marine creatures and wildlife.

2. Deepwater Horizon

The deepwater horizon regards the Gulf of Mexico Oil spill, which took place in April, 2010. It revealed the disastrous effects of oil pollution. The disaster took place when a deep sea oil gusher resulted in a deepwater explosion. The accidental explosion claimed the lives of 11 men working at the station and the spill continued for more than three months accounting for a spill of about 2.5 million gallons a day.

As the sill continued, it spread over 550 miles killing hundreds of marine life and birds. On top of that, the long-term implications of the 1.8 million gallons of oil dispersant used on the marine world remain unknown. The total amount of oil spill was estimated to be 206 million gallons and since been recorded as the largest accidental/technical failure oil spill in world history.

3. Ixtoc 1 Oil Spill

The Ixtoc 1 oil spill was recorded in June 1979 at the Bay of Campeche, Mexico. It was caused by an offshore well spill due to a blowout that resulted in the collapse of the drilling rig. Pemex, a Mexican state petroleum company, was responsible for the spill.

The consequences of the oil spill went on several years after flow was stopped. The oil gushed out of the offshore well at a rate of 10,000 to 30,000 barrels a day. The oil flow continued until 1980 when it was stopped leading to a cumulative spill of nearly 140 million gallons.

4. The Atlantic Empress Oil Spill

This oil spill was witnessed off the cost of Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies, on a stormy evening in July 1979. A Greek oil tanker amidst a tropical storm collided with an Aegean ship. Damaged by the accident, the two supertankers started leaking oil and continued to discharge oil into the ocean while it was being hauled. In the process, one of the tankers caught fire before reaching the shore killing 26 crew and releasing more oil into the ocean. The spill amounted to approximately 90 million gallons of oil leak into the ocean.

5. Kolva River Oil Spill

Kolvia River oil spill in Russia took place in August, 1983 due to a poorly maintained pipeline. Eight months before the spill, the pipeline had been slowly discharging oil but a dike prevented it from releasing it. On August 6th, sudden cold weather lead to the crumpling of the dike discharging up to 84 million gallons of accumulated oil. The released oil spread covering over 170 acres of streams and fragile wetlands. The damage to biodiversity and aquatic systems in the area was devastating.

6. Nowruz Oil Field Spill

In February 1983, the Persian Gulf in Iran suffered an oil spill tragedy after a tanker collided with an oil platform. Upon the impact of the platform, it collapsed releasing oil into the Persian Gulf. Efforts to stop the leak were delayed and proved difficult due to the war that was ongoing between Iran and Iraq. Approximately 80 million gallons of oil was spewed into the Persian Gulf. 11 lives were lost as a result of the incident and marine life hugely suffered.

7. Castillo de Bellver Oil Spill

In the month of August 1983, Castillo de Bellver caught fire and was carried into the open sea where it broke into two off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. The ship sank with about 31 million gallons of oil that was on board. The overall oil spill due to incident amounted to nearly 79 million gallons.

Initially, the oil drifted towards the coast but it was later drifted offshore after which it entered the north-west Benguela Current. Cleanup efforts were not seriously needed and no long-term damages or adverse effects were recorded from the tragic event.

8. Fergana Valley Oil Spill

The Fergana Valley oil well, which is one of Uzbekistans’s most active oil-refining areas, experienced a major misfortune after blowout on March 2, 1992. The disaster, also known as Mingbulak oil spill, is recorded as the worst and largest inland oil spill in the history of Asia. The blowout caused a spill of about 88 million gallons of oil. Most of the oil was absorbed by the soil and cleanup effort was minimal. The flow of the oil stopped by itself.

9. Amoco Cadiz

On March, 1978, the mighty Amoco Cadiz was snarled in winter storms off the coast of Brittany, France damaging the ship’s rudder and steering capability. As a result, the ship broke into half and ran aground with its entire load of 246,000 tons of crude oil. At the time, the ship sent 69 million gallons of oil into the waters of the English Channel destroying the aquatic ecosystem and killing the largest number of marine life ever recorded in history.

The cleaning efforts of the spill were disappointingly unsuccessful due to strong winds and heavy seas making the slick spread quickly to cover over 18 miles. At the end of it, only 1.6 million barrels of oil was recovered. 76 beaches were also affected by the catastrophe.

10. ABT Summer Oil Spill

ABT Sumer oil spill pertains to the explosion off the coast of Angola in May 28, 1991. An oil tanker ship by the name ABT exploded expelling huge volumes of oil into the sea. Since the oil spill occurred in high seas, the precise facts about the spill remains unclear bit is reported that the spill was in the range of 51 to 81 million gallons of oil. The slick from the spill stretched over an area of 80 square miles and the crude oil continued to burn three days after which the ship submerged. Five crew members onboard died and the environmental costs were small as the oil is said to have been dispersed at the high seas.

11. M/T Haven Tanker Oil Spill

In April 1991, the M/T Haven oil tanker loaded with approximately 144,000 tons of crude oil exploded releasing 45 million gallons of oil in the Mediterranean waters.  The event took place near Genoa, Italy, claiming the lives of six people and was associated with the bad condition of the ship. After the explosion, the ship broke into two and submerged three days later. The leakage of the oil still went on for 12 years heavily polluting the Mediterranean coast of France and Italy, particularly around southern France and Genoa respectively.

Image credit: pixabay
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About Rinkesh

A true environmentalist by heart ❤️. Founded Conserve Energy Future with the sole motto of providing helpful information related to our rapidly depleting environment. Unless you strongly believe in Elon Musk‘s idea of making Mars as another habitable planet, do remember that there really is no 'Planet B' in this whole universe.