Only three 7m-tonnes-plus oil spillages in 2020

There were only three incidents where more than seven tonnes of oil were spilt in 2020, according to the annual statistics from UK-based not-for-profit pollution response organization International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Ltd (ITOPF).

The total volume of oil lost in all three incidents was approximately 1,000 mt, making it one of the lowest on record, and termed by ITOPF as “a promising start to the decade”.

Using ITOPF’s categorization for sizes of oil spill, there were no large spills (more than 700 tonnes) in 2020. The three incidents recorded were all categorized as medium spills (between seven and 700 tonnes); with one each occurring in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

In the 50 years since ITOPF’s records began, the frequency of large oil spills – more than 700 tonnes – has fallen dramatically. To report meaningful changes, ITOPF said that it now needed to refer to its lower categorization of spills, medium spills of between seven and 700 tonnes.

The average number of spills greater than seven tonnes per year in the 1970s was about 79, but by the 2010s this had fallen by more than 90%, to an average of six a year in the past decade.

As the number of oil spills have decreased, the relative proportion of spills arising from allisions and collisions has increased, accounting for around 44% of all oil spills greater than seven tonnes from tankers.

Although ITOPF attends incidents from tankers and non-tankers, for historical reasons the annual statistics publication only reports incidents involving tankers, combined carriers and barges. Accidents involving non-tank vessels which carry oil as bunker fuel, such as container ships, bulk carriers and general cargo ships, might also be a source of pollution. ITOPF noted that this was demonstrated following the grounding of bulk carrier Wakashio off the coast of Mauritius in July 2020.