Terminals and worksites

The world record for the largest oil spill is held by a spill at a terminal during the first Gulf War in Kuwait. Aside from such acts, oil spills from terminals and worksites have significantly decreased, falling, according to the US National Academy of Sciences, from 253,000 tonnes in 1973 to 50,000 in 1981 and 37,000 in 1989, with an increase to 80,000 tonnes in 2000. Once again, these figures are not accurate statistics but rather estimates in which the main component of the progress recorded is the decrease in spills at sea from the bilge and tanks of vessels before entering dry dock for repairs.

Coastal State or Flag State?

On 18 March 2005 the Norwegian chemical
tanker the Trans Artic was caught illegally discharging off the French coast. The case was due to be judged in the court of Brest (Brittany, France) on 18 October 2005, when Norway claimed its right as the Flag State to judge the case, based on the Montego Bay Convention. On 29 December 2005, the shipowner was convicted in Bergen, Norway, and handed a 360,000 Euro fine.

This result however left the French civil parties affected by the pollution unsatisfied, as they had thus far received no compensation for the damages incurred. The court of Brest subsequently exerted its right, as the Coastal State, to undertake proceedings. On 7 June the very same case was therefore judged for a second time, this time in France, where the captain was handed a 50,000 Euro fine, with a further 300,000 Euros in the case of a repeat offence. This exceptional case therefore resulted in a dual conviction.

Up until the late 1970s, it was common practice to discharge waste at sea before entering dry dock, in order to avoid the cost of its removal by the shipyard or simply because the vast majority of non-tanker ports did not have waste reception facilities. A worldwide effort is currently being made to reduce discharge before stopovers, repairs and demolition.

Fishing ports and marinas are no exception. Small overflows from fuel tanks when transferring fuel, or when loading oil onboard are frequent occurrences. They are the main source of sheen that can often be seen in ports.

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POLREPs in mainland France’s surveillance zones from 2000 to 2004

Sources: data from the French Customs and Navy


Gulf War oil spill

On 26 January 1991, when the Iraqi army left Kuwait, it sabotaged a large part of the oil wells, the Mina al Ahmadi oil terminal and anchored oil tankers, in a bid to cause maximum damage to the country’s oil industry.

Between 700,000 and 900,000 tonnes of oil were spilled at sea over a number of weeks, before international strike teams managed to stem the flow. This was the largest known oil spill in human history.

Oil wells on fire (Gulf War 1991)

Other causes of such spills, in particular the rupture of hoses during fuel supply operations and oil leaks during repair of vessels, result from failures in safety procedures similar to those in industrial installations on land. Once again, the problem is making operators aware that a small, occasional spill, which may seem negligible, is another contribution to the worldwide input, the overall volume of which is unacceptable.

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Evolution of bank guarantees for illicit discharge in French territorial waters and EEZ (the fine imposed is generally around 90% of the bank guarantee)

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French protection zone for marine mammals in the Mediterranean