The 5 Worst Oil Spills Disasters in History

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The Deepwater Horizon explosion and resulting oil spill that happened in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 was recent enough that most of us can remember the general feeling of unpreparedness that surrounded the massive environmental disaster.

The accident killed 11 people and spilled oil at a rate as high as 2.5 million gallons a day for more than 85 days, while killing hundreds of birds and marine life.

However, in comparison with other oil spills on record, the 130 million gallons of crude oil which leaked due to the Gulf oil spill was not immense.

But, the long term adverse effects on marine life and the general environmental problems felt along the 600 miles of Gulf shoreline makes the Deepwater Horizon explosion one of the worst hazmat shipping disasters in history.

Here’s a look at 5 of the worst shipping disasters in world history. Compare these with the numbers described above from the Gulf oil spill.

1. The Collision and Sinking of the SS Atlantic Empress.

When: July 19, 1979
Where: In the Caribbean, 18 miles east of the island of Tobago in the West Indies.
How much: Nearly 2.5 million barrels of crude oil spilled into the Caribbean Sea.

The Atlantic Empress collided with another supertanker, the Aegean Captain, in the summer of 1979 in the Caribbean Sea and eventually sank – which led to the largest ship-based oil spill in history. After all the dust settled, almost 90 million gallons of crude was dumped into the Caribbean – and 26 crew members were killed in the disaster.

2. The Odyssey Oil Spill in the North Atlantic.

When: November 10, 1988
Where: 700 nautical miles off the coast of the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.
How much: 132,157 tons (43 million gallons) of oil.

Near the end of 1988, the American-owned Odyssey oil tanker split in half in the Atlantic Ocean, spewing out 132,000 tons of crude oil. As the supertanker was sinking, it caught fire, which set the oil slick aflame. Due to the extreme and hazardous weather conditions, the Canadian Coast Guard was unable to immediately reach the spill, causing much of the oil to burn.

3. The Exxon Valdez Accident Becomes the Largest Oil Spill Disaster in U.S. History.

When: March 24, 1989
Where: In Prince William Sound, Alaska.
How much: 11 million gallons of oil.

In early spring 1989, the Exxon Valdez was traveling in Prince William Sound outside of normal shipping lanes to avoid ice, when it ran into Blight Reef and spilled 11 millions gallons of the 53 millions gallons of crude onboard. Due to the spill’s remote location in the pristine Alaskan wilderness and the overwhelming size of the slick, clean-up was a monstrous task. Millions of birds, whales, otters and other local wildlife were at risk and thousands of animals died. Twenty years after the accident, Exxon Mobil Corp. was ordered to pay about $500 million in punitive damages, and on interest owed, to Alaska Natives, fishermen, business owners and others harmed by the 1989 disaster.

4. The Amoco Cadiz Supertanker Splits in Two.

When: March 16, 1978
Where: Off the coast of Brittany, France.
How much: 2 million barrels of oil.

Severe weather caused the wreckage and complete breakup of the Amoco Cadiz off the coast of France, destroying all hopes of salvaging any oil that could be pumped from the ship, resulting in the entire cargo of crude oil and 4,000 tons of fuel oil to be spilled into the sea, causing an ecological disaster.

5. The Haven Explodes in the Mediterranean Sea.

When: April 11, 1991
Where: Off the coast of Genoa, Italy.
How much: 42 million gallons of oil.

Seven miles off the coast of Western Europe, the MT Haven exploded, caught fire, burned for three days, broke in two then sank. The wreck flooded the Mediterranean with 50,000 tons of crude oil and for the next twelve years, the Italian and French coastlines were polluted, especially around Genoa and Southern France.

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