• Posted by: Ecospill Spill Kits

10 of the Largest Oil Spills in History

Oil is one of the most important resources in the modern era. However, oil spills impact the environment and local ecosystems which can lead to irreversible effects. With today’s technology, there are lots of options to help prevent and clean up oil spills. Here at Ecospill, we have a dedicated team to ensure our spill kits are of the highest quality and are compliant with industry regulations. In this article, we take a closer look at 10 of the largest oil spills in history.

1 – The Odyssey Spill (1998)

In 1998, the oil tanker named Odyssey was travelling from Scotland to Canada. The crew of the Odyssey sent out a distress signal as they crossed over the north Atlantic Sea. There was a response within hours, but at that time the Odyssey was surrounded by ignited oil slicks. Eventually, the vessel split in two, and 132,000 tonnes of crude oil escaped into the sea.

Due to a storm and rough seas, the ocean naturally dispersed the oil. There were no response actions taken to the oil spill.

2- The M/T Haven Tanker Spill (1991)

On the 11th of April, the vessel Haven was unloading huge amounts of oil when an explosion tore through the hull. More than 44 million gallons of crude oil was spilt into the Tyrrhenian sea. The Italian response was quick, and they managed to contain much of the spill by pumping out oil and setting fire to the surface oil. 

Even with a quick response, the local Italian and french fisheries struggled for a decade after. The spill had a devastating effect on the local coasts and ecosystems.

3 – The Amoco Cadiz Spill (1978)

Off the coast of Brittany in France, the tanker Amoco Cadiz ran aground. Unable to steer, the Amoco drifted ashore where its hull was torn open, resulting in the largest oil spill of its time. 221,000 tonnes of oil was spilt.

Due to the isolated location, response teams struggled to contain the spill. Because of the damage to the hull, there was no time to pump oil from the Amoco Cadiz. Whilst they managed to contain nearly half of the oil, the event was still the biggest loss to marine life in its time. 

4 – The Castillo de Bellver Spill (1983)

The Spanish tanker Castillo de Bellver caught on fire whilst travelling through a sensitive environment of coastal birds and fishing grounds. The crew abandoned the burning vessel whilst it was breaking apart. In the end, 250,000 tonnes of crude oil was spilt.

The weather worked in favour of the response team, currents and wind forced the oil slick out to sea. Whilst they weren’t able to pump out any oil, they did prevent a major disaster along the Cape Town coast.

5 – The Nowruz Oil Field Spill (1983)

During the Iraq-Iran war, there were numerous attacks on oil fields. In March 1983 a tanker made contact with a platform, ripping its hull, and resulting in an oil spill. The area was attacked by Iraqi forces, and the oil spill was set ablaze.

Due to the war, there was no response effort made. Only 2 years after the incident, the authorities decided to cover the vessel in cement. Over 100,000 tonnes of oil was spilt.

6 – The Kolva River Spill (1994)

A damaged pipeline and years of leaking resulted in 2 million barrels of crude oil being spilt into the Kolva River. A dam had been built around the leak site, but after intense weather conditions, the dam collapsed.

There was little response taken, and the company responsible for the old pipeline was fined. Residents of the Kolva River say the oil had been leaking since as far back as 1974, affecting the river and surrounding tundra.

7 – The Atlantic Empress Spill (1979)

In 1979 the Atlantic Empress collided with another oil tanker near the Caribbean sea. The Atlantic Empress took heavy damage and both vessels caught on fire. The response team arrived and struggled to combat the flames. After several days, the Atlantic Empress was towed out to sea where it was sunk. 

287,000 tonnes of crude oil was spilt from the Empress, making it one of the largest oil spills in the world from any ship. 

8 – The Ixtoc 1 Spill (1979)

A semi-submersible drill rig was operating in the Bay of Campeche. A sudden blowout occurred which resulted in the rig catching fire and sinking. The damage to the drill rods caused the oil to leak out at catastrophic rates. Over 10 months, volunteers and official response teams were working the surrounding beaches every day. 

After 10 months, 3.3 million barrels of crude oil had been spilt into the Gulf of Mexico, making it one of the worst oil spills in history.

9- The Deepwater Horizon Spill (2010)

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill is the largest marine oil spill in history. nearly 5 million barrels worth of crude oil was spilt into the Gulf of Mexico. The Deepwater Horizon oil rig suffered an explosion that caused it to sink. Extensive efforts were taken to try and contain the oil spill. Response teams focused their efforts on containment, dispersal and removal. 

Similar to the Ixtoc incident in 1979, all the surrounding beaches had volunteers to help clean up. 

10 – The Gulf War Spill (1991)

The largest oil spill in the world was during the Gulf War of 1991. Up to 6 million barrels of crude oil was spilt during one month. There are two speculations on what started the leak. Iraqi forces were alleged to have been dumping oil along the coast to prevent the US from beaching. Others claim that the leak was the result of an American airstrike. 

No matter the cause, the Gulf War Oil Spill is the largest to date. Unfortunately, clean up efforts were minimal due to the ongoing war, as well as poor funding. Of all the cleanup that occurred, recovery was the prime intent. Little attention was given to the act of containing and removing the oil spill. This resulted in a huge oil slick that spanned 100 kilometres across the Persian Gulf. 


There are plenty of other spills that have taken place, such as the Torrey Canyon and the Exxon Valdez oil spills. One thing is for sure, they can be devastating to the environment and the local ecosystem. There can be dire consequences that last decades if the correct measures aren’t taken. Through containment, recovery and dispersion, the effects of oil spills can be significantly reduced. 

There are many regulations surrounding oil spills and the containment of hazardous substances. It can be confusing to know what measures need to be taken. Ecospill has an expert team that strives to provide services and products that are up to current regulations.

We provide a range of containment and spill systems that you can apply to many situations. If you are having trouble choosing a spill kit or need any assistance, please feel free to contact us.