Indicator Fact Sheet

EN15 Accidental oil spills from marine shipping

Indicator Fact Sheet
Prod-ID: IND-135-en
  Also known as: ENER 015
This is an old version, kept for reference only.

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This page was archived on 08 May 2015 with reason: No more updates will be done

Assessment made on  01 Nov 2008

Generic metadata



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

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, 2100 tonnes were released into the environment. However, this trend is largely dependent on the occurrence of large accidents, as few very large accidents are responsible for a high percentage of the oil spilt from maritime transport. During the period 1990-2005, of the 106 accidental spills over 7 tonnes, only 7 accidents resulting in spills of around 20 000 tonnes or more account for 89 % of the volume of oil spilt (Fig. 2).

Unfortunately, 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. On average 13 accidents per year were reported for the period 1990-94, 4.8 accidents per year between 1995-1999 and 2.6 accidents per year for the period of 2000-2004 . In 2005, 4 accidents were reported. If all accidents, including accidents resulting in spills < 7 tonnes, are taken into account, the reduction is even more significant with averages of 31.4, 8.8 and 8 accidents per five-year period respectively. In 2005, 8 accidents in European waters resulted in oil spills. For all accidents were >7 tonnes of oil is split grounding of the vessel is by far the most common cause accounting for 44 % of the total volume. Fire/explosion (27 %), hull failure (15 %) and collision (13 %) are the next most common causes (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) which 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 will help further reduce this risk together with 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.

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