Oil spills

The majority of spills occure during operational procedures (loading/discharging tanker cargo and bunkering) in ports or at terminals. These spills are however often small. Accidents such as grounding, collision, hull failures and fire/explosions generally cause much larger spills. Pollution may also occur in connection with pumping of of bilges, discharge of garbage/sewage and ballast operations.

Facts and Findings

  • 85 % of all tanker spills involve quantities less than 7 tonnes.

  • The majority of operational spills are small, with some 92 % involving quantities of less than 7 tonnes.

  • Nearly two-thirds of major incidents are caused by either grounding or collision.

    (Source: ITOPF)

  • A common cause of pollution is ruptured oil pipes in ballast tank.

Preventive measures

  • All personnel should be trained in the use of the oil-spill response equipment and have regular drills in implementing emergency clean-up plans.

  • There should be a system of record keeping of all cargo, bunkering, and tank cleaning operations.

  • Bunkering and loading/discharging operations require careful planning and vigilance during the entire operation:

    • agree on rate of loading cargo/bunkers,
    • check ullages during bunkering/loading,
    • fit scupper plugs,
    • maintain a deck watch keeper.

  • There should be procedures for safe transfer of oil onboard the vessel.

  • Sounding-, vent- and overflow pipes passing through ballast tanks should be inspected for wasting.

  • Careful disposal of contaminated ballast water.

  • Records of Garbage/sewage should be maintained. Instructions of disposal should be implemented.

  • The 15ppm bilge water separator and ODM sensors should be checked for functionality at regular intervals. Under no circumstances should this equipment be tampered with.

  • Reduce loading rate well before topping up tanks. 

Shipping industry guidance on the use of Oil Water Separators, ensuring compliance with MARPOL (2006)


Air pollution

  Sulphur Guide - dealing with the Sulphur Cap 2020 and beyond 


Case studies

Pollution corroded pipe.pdf

Pollution when bunkering.pdf



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