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The Top 5 Worst Oil Spills in History

  Name Location Date Amount of Oil Spilled
(gallons)
1 Arabian Gulf/Kuwait Spill Persian Gulf, Kuwait Jan. 19, 1991 380-520 million gallons
2 Deepwater Horizon Spill Gulf of Mexico April 22, 2010 206 million gallons
3 Ixtoc 1 Oil Spill Bay of Campeche, Mexico June 3, 1979 140 million gallons
4 Atlantic Empress Oil Spill Coast of Trinidad and Tobago July 19, 1979 90 million gallons
5 Kolva River Oil Spill Kolva River, Russia Aug. 6, 1983 84 million gallons
Tags Top 5 Worst , The Environment

Sources: Top 5 of Anything research, ITOPF Oil Spill Intelligence Report.

List Notes: Data is in gallons/litres of oil spilled. Please note: it is extremely difficult to establish accurate information about the volume of oil spilled in an oil spill accident, especially if part of it has burned so these figures should be taken as best estimates.
Image of oil spill by NOAA.
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  1. The blow-out of the Ixtoc I exploratory well in the Bay of Campeche on June 3, 1979, resulted in the release of about 475,000 metric tons of oil to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Approximately 24,000 metric tons of oil landed on Mexican beaches, about 4,000 metric tons landed on Texas beaches, and about 120,000 metric tons, or 25 percent of the total, sank to the bottom of the Gulf. It has been calculated that some 15,000 km2 of the Gulf of Mexico can be regarded as poisoned by the Ixtoc I oil, although damage to lagoons was less than expected. The full extent of the damage remains unknown.
  2. On July 19, 1979, the Atlantic Empress an oil tanker flying the Greek flag, collided with the Aegean Captain spilling millions of gallons of crude oil into the Caribbean Sea. The Aegean Captain managed to limp back to shore spilling small quantities of crude along the way. The burning Atlantic Empress was towed towards the open sea where it exploded and went on to spill over 280,000 tonnes of crude oil, the largest ever at sea. 26 crew members lost their lives in the disaster.
  3. On May 28th 1991, the ABT Summer a Liberian-registered super-tanker exploded 700 nautical miles off the coast of Angola, spilling 81 million gallons of crude oil into the ocean causing an oil slick 31 kilometres long and 5 kilometres wide. The ABT Summer accident accounted for 60% of the total amount of spills for that year.
  4. On the 6th of August 1983, The Castillo De Bellver caught fire 112 kilometres north-west of Cape Town, South Africa. The burning ship carrying 252,000 tonnes of light crude oil, drifted off shore, broke in two and sank in deep water.
  5. After a steering gear failure on the 16th of March 1978, the Amoco Cadiz ran aground off the coast of Brittany spilling 223 thousand tonnes of light Iranian and Arabian crude oil and 4 thousand tonnes of bunker C fuel into heavy seas. At the time, the Amoco Cadiz incident resulted in the largest loss of marine life ever recorded from an oil spill. Millions of dead molluscs, sea urchins, and other bottom dwelling organisms washed ashore, nearly 20,000 dead birds were recovered, 9,000 tons of oysters were destroyed, and fish were caught with skin ulcerations and tumours. The spill was also estimated to have caused $250 million in economic damages along the French coastline.
5 facts sources: Top 5 research, 1. xtoc I: A Case Study of the World's Largest Oil Spill, by Arne Jernelov and Olof Linden.

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