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Gulf War

Gulf War
Accident date
The Persian Gulf
Spill area
Cause of spill
Act of war
Quantity transported
between 700,000 and 900,000 tonnes
Nature of pollutant
Ship / structure type
Oil rig

On 26 January 1991, when the Iraqi army left Kuwait, it sabotaged a large part of the Emirate oil wells, Mina al Ahmadi’s oil terminal and anchored oil tankers. They ignited the spilled oil, in order 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 intervention squads succeeded in containing the stream. Provided that estimates are accurate, this was the biggest oil spill in human history.


Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Iran boomed economically and ecologically sensitive areas and implemented various forms of pollution response, in many cases with foreign equipment and expertise.

Claims for damages were presented to the United Nations Compensation Commission (UNCC), in charge of the distribution of war damage compensation by Iraq.


The effects of these hundreds of thousands of tonnes of oil could immediately be seen on coral, fish and shellfish. Long term regular monitoring was essential to follow the re-establishment of aquatic and coastal flora and fauna in the affected area.

The high mortality of fish populations benefited zooplankton which reproduced rapidly and became abundant due to the lack of predators.

Estimations indicated that 30,000 seabirds were directly killed by exposure to oil. Nearly 50% of the coral was affected as well as hundreds of square kilometres of seaweed fields being flooded with oil slicks.

The risks were also high for turtles, which were used to coming to breed on these islands and became coated in oil. The seawater remained contaminated by metals, although it is not known whether this was due to remaining oil from this spill or another source of pollution. Sheen could regularly be seen on the shoreline.


he coral showed symptoms of severe stress, causing bleaching and high mortality as a result of periods of reduction in temperature of the water surface during the winter following the war.
Many environmental factors took longer to return to normal than was expected by scientists. Other factors on top of the post-Gulf war impacts were evoked, such as the influence of climate change, various sources of air and water pollution etc.
The effects on human health are difficult to observe as they involve too many different factors, the dissociation of responsibilities for events which may be involved and sufficient hindsight to be able to see all the effects.


The commission received approximately 170 claims relating to the environment, seeking a total of approximately 80 billion US dollars in compensation.

The claims for the environment concerned both environmental damage and the depletion of natural resources in the Persian Gulf. The environmental damages resulting from oil-well fires and the discharge of oil into the sea were taken into account. The costs incurred by governments outside of the region in providing assistance to countries that were directly affected by the environmental damage were also included.

109 of these claims were awarded compensation, however the compensation awarded for this category amounts to a little over 5 billion dollars, a mere 6.2 % of the claimed amount.

Last update on 10/04/2007

External links

United Nations Compensation Commission, Provides facts and figures relating to the compensation process

NOAA database (IncidentNews)

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