EN15 Accidental oil spills from marine shipping

Indicator Fact Sheet (Deprecated)
Prod-ID: IND-135-en
Also known as: ENER 015
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This content has been archived on 08 May 2015, reason: No more updates will be done

Assessment made on  01 Apr 2007

Generic metadata


Energy Energy (Primary theme)

DPSIR: Driving force


Indicator codes
  • ENER 015

Policy issue:  Is the use and production of energy having a decreasing impact on the environment?


Key assessment

Oil spills to marine areas have a significant impact on marine ecosystems. The consistency of oil can cause surface contamination and smothering of marine biota, and its chemical components can cause acute toxic effects and long-term accumulative impacts. The environmental impact following a spill depends on a number of factors, including not only the size of the spill, but on the spread of the oil slick, the toxicity and persistence of the oil and the sensitivity of the environmental region affected.

Accidental oil tanker spills into the European Seas have decreased significantly over the past 17 years. From the total amount of oil spilt in large accidents (i.e. more than 7 tonnes) during the 1990-2005 period (553 000 tonnes), two thirds were spilt over the period 1990-1994. During the five year periods 1995-1999 and 2000-2004, around 19 % and 14 % respectively were spilt. In 2005 2 100 tonnes have been released into the environment. However, this trend is to a large extent dependent on the occurrence of large accidents, as a few very large accidents are responsible for a high percentage of the oil spilt from maritime transport. For example, during the period 1990-2005, of 106 accidental spills over 7 tonnes, just 7 accidents (causing spills of around 20 000 tonnes or more) account for 89 % of the spilt oil volume (Fig. 2).

Such major accidents still occur at irregular intervals. Nevertheless, the average number of accidental oil spills above 7 tonnes in European waters has decreased significantly. While on average 13 accidents per year were reported for the period 1990-94, 4.8 accidents per year over the 1995-1999 and 2.6 accidents per year for the 2000-2004 period occurred. In 2005, 4 such accidents have been reported, like in 2004. If all accidents (i.e. including also accidents resulting in spills < 7 tonnes) are taken into account, the drop is even more significant with averages of 31.4, 8.8 and 8 accidents per five-year period respectively. In total 8 accidents have resulted in oil spills in European waters in 2005. Grounding of the vessel is by far the most important factor for oil spilt into the sea accounting for 44 % of the total volume, when the spilt volume is examined (for all accidents > 7 tonnes) followed by fire/explosion (27 %), hull failure (15 %) and collision (13 %) (Fig 3).

The decrease in oil spilt into the sea was achieved despite a rise in oil consumption and related imports (EUROSTAT, 2005a,b,c). This rise in imports has led to a higher risk of oil spills since over 90 % of oil products in Europe are transported by sea. A more rapid introduction of double hulls for tankers is expected to help to further reduce this risk. Other actions that are anticipated to reduce the risk of future spills include the enforcement of traffic monitoring and information system legislation, and the enforcement of the law against ship-source pollution - including criminal sanctions for pollution offences. The establishment of the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA) is expected to play a role in reducing the risk of accidental oil spills from tankers into the sea.

European Environment Agency (EEA)
Kongens Nytorv 6
1050 Copenhagen K
Phone: +45 3336 7100