Tragic, but not permanent

For the Record: The Top Ten Worst Spills

The following is a list of the 10 worst oil spills (volumes approximate), courtesy of

Note that seven of the 10 worst oil spills were tanker accidents – and the worst spill was an intentional act.

Also, in each case the environment was not permanently harmed.

1. Gulf War oil spill (1991) – 10-11.4 million barrels (total).

The worst oil spill in history, the Gulf War oil spill spewed an estimated eight million barrels of oil into the Persian Gulf after Iraqi forces opened valves of oil wells and pipelines as they retreated from Kuwait. The oil slick reached a maximum size of 101 miles by 42 miles and was five inches thick.

2. Ixtoc I oil well (June 1979) – 3.4 million barrels.

The Ixtoc I oil well exploded in the Gulf of Mexico and the oil platform caught fire and collapsed, rupturing valves and making it difficult for rescue personnel to control the damage. The spill continued for nine months.

3. Atlantic Empress/Aegean Captain (July 1979) – 2.14 million barrels.

A Greek oil tanker called the Atlantic Empress collided with another ship, the Aegean Captain, during a tropical storm off of the island of Tobago in the Caribbean Sea. The Atlantic Empress disaster killed 26 crewmembers and is the largest ship-based oil spill.

4. Fergana Valley (1992) – 2.11 million barrels.

The Fergana Valley, one of Central Asia’s most densely populated agricultural and industrial areas, was the site of the largest inland oil spills in history.

5. Nowruz oil field (February 1983) – 1.92 million barrels.

During the first Gulf War, a tanker collided with a platform in the Persian Gulf on Feb. 10, 1983, spilling about 1,500 barrels a day, until the platform was attacked by Iraqi planes in March and the slick caught fire. The Nowruz oil field was not immediately capped, because the field was located in the middle of the Iran/Iraq war zone. The well was finally capped by Iran in September – an effort that resulted in the deaths of 11 people.

6. ABT Summer (1991) – 1.92 million barrels.

The ABT Summer tanker, traveling from Iran to Rotterdam, leaked oil and caught on fire about 700 miles off the Angolan coast in 1991. The disaster killed five of the 32 crewmembers on board.

7. Castillo de Bellver (1983) – 1.87 million barrels.

A fire aboard the Castillo de Bellver tanker led to an explosion that caused the vessel to break in two. Oil spilled into the sea 24 miles off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. Luckily, the oil caused minimal environmental damage as the direction of the wind moved the oil slick offshore, where it dissipated naturally.

8. The Amoco Cadiz (1978) – 1.60 million barrels.

Stormy weather drove the Amoco Cadiz aground on the Portsall Rocks, a 90-foot deep outcrop off the coast of Brittany, France. The ship split in two and quickly sank before its oil load could be pumped from the wreck.

9. The Amoco Haven (1991) – 1.14 million barrels.

A violent explosion in the Mediterranean Sea near Genoa, Italy, aboard the Cyprus-based tanker the Haven killed six members of the crew and spilled 145,000 tons of oil off the coast of Italy. About 70 percent of the oil burned in the ensuing fire.

10. The Odyssey (1988) – 977,000 barrels.

The American-owned oil tanker Odyssey split in two 700 miles off the coast of Nova Scotia, spilling crude oil into the sea and catching fire as it sank, setting the spill aflame. Because of hazardous weather conditions the Canadian Coast Guard could not immediately reach the spill, and much of the oil burned.

Also: Exxon Valdez (March 1989) – 257,000 barrels

With a third mate at the helm, the loaded 986-foot vessel carrying 1,264,155 barrels of oil ran aground in Prince William Sound in Alaska. Exxon says it spent about $2.1 billion on the cleanup effort.

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