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Accident date
Tristan da Cunha (British overseas territory)
Accident area
Nightingale Island
Spill area
Cause of spill
Product transported
soya beans
Quantity transported
60,000 tonnes
Nature of pollutant
heavy fuel oil (bunker fuel), soya beans
Quantity spilled
1,500 tonnes of heavy fuel oil, 60,000 tonnes of soya beans
Ship / structure type
Bulk carrier
Built date
225 m
32 m
Dryships Inc. (Greece)
TMS Bulkers

The incident

On 16 March 2011, at 4:30 am, the Oliva ran aground on Nightingale Island, halfway between Argentina and South Africa, in the Southern Atlantic. The bulk carrier, en route for Singapore with a cargo of soya beans, found itself stuck on the rugged northern coast of the island.

The following day, the 22 crew members were evacuated onto the Edinburgh with assistance from the ship Prince Albert II. The assistance tug Smit Amandla left Cape Town with a team of environmental experts on board.

Before their arrival on 21 March, the weather conditions caused the Oliva to break up, on the morning of 18 March. The stern sank and the bunker oil (1,500 tonnes of heavy fuel oil) was spilt. Nightingale Island was hit by the pollution. The coasts of Middle, Stoltenhoff and Inaccessible Islands were also oiled.


On 18 March, an assessment team, led by the Administrator of Tristan da Cunha, travelled to Nightingale. An awful scene was reported, with oil slicks stretching around 8 miles offshore and all around the island.

Meanwhile, the Tristan Conservation Team were busy cleaning oiled Rockhopper Penguins.

On 6 April, two experts from the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Limited (ITOPF) and Le Floch Dépollution (LFD), arrived on the island. Following surveys, a clean-up plan was produced. This plan recommended the use of high pressure hoses (with warmed seawater) to remove the oil deposited at the surface and in cracks in rocks. This oil was then channelled to a collection point surrounded by booms to prevent the pollutant from flowing back into the marine environment. The oil was recovered using "pompom" sorbents. The waste was bagged and sent to Cape Town to be treated.

The porous nature of the rock on this volcanic island was a challenge for clean-up. Small quantities of oil had seeped into the rock and could not be removed. The teams counted on the fact that the extreme winter conditions should clear the last traces of pollution.


Ecological threat

This incident threatened the island's sensitive biological balance. The islands is home to a large number of seabirds and its waters are rich in crayfish and Tristan Rock Lobster, the mai nstay of Tristan da Cunha's economy. Nightingale Island also hosts one of the largest colonies of Rockhopper Penguins, an endangered species. Some 20,000 penguins were threatened by the spill. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB), the Tristan Da Cunha Conservation Team as well as many volunteers did a remarkable job in rescuing the oiled birds. Staff were mobilised to feed them, care for them and clean them. 

In late April, after the departure of experts on 23 April, certain shores of Nightingale, Inaccessible and Middle Islands had not been inspected or cleaned up. The inaccessibility of the archipelago's islands impeded the implementation of response actions. No survey of the wreck had been conducted either. There is currently no confirmation of the state of the cargo. By late May, three months after the arrival of the first oiled birds, 3718 Rockhopper Penguins had entered rehabilitation. 381 of them were safely returned to sea. This low survival rate can be explained by the fact that the birds were at the end of their moulting cycle when the spill occurred. They were therefore hungry, thirsty and at their weakest.


Last update on 13/06/2012

See also

Sea & Shore Technical Newsletter, Year 2011, number 33

Cedre Newsletter n°189, march 2011, The Oliva :  Tristan Da Cunha archipelago

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