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Pollutant spills worldwide - 2016

Spills and their location worldwide

In 2016, Cedre recorded 38 spills involving volumes greater than or equal to 10 m³, for which sufficient information was available for statistical analysis.







Sea & shoreline

Number of spills by area

These events occurred most often at sea and in ports (each representing around 37% of incidents), followed by inshore waters (around 20% of cases). Approximately 5% of these spills occurred in estuaries. The number of incidents recorded in 2016 is slightly higher than the annual median expressed for the 12 previous years (29 incidents for the 2004-2015 period).




Quantities spilt by area

The total quantity of oil and other hazardous substances spilt, around 172,800 tonnes, is far higher than the median estimated using the same method for the previous 12-year period (around 28,400 tonnes). Nevertheless, this total is skewed by the inclusion of one major spill (loss of a vessel and its cargo of 160,000 tonnes of coal in Madagascar in January 2016 (see LTML n°42-43). Aside from this exception, 2016 was punctuated by spills distributed around a median of around 30 tonnes (and would appear to fit with the overall downward trend in estimated annual volumes reported since 2012).


Number of spills and quantities spilt by pollutant type

The significant spills in 2016 all involved oil. In terms of spill frequency, we note the prevalence of light refined oil products (most often diesel, involved in almost 30% of cases), followed by crude oils of unspecified density (approximately 25% of cases) (Fig. 1).


This is followed by heavy/intermediate products of unspecified IFO grades (involved in approximately 16% of cases) and heavy (IFO≥380) and intermediate (IFO 180) refined products, which are associated with 5% and 3% of incidents respectively. In 15% of cases, the type of oil is unspecified or unknown. The shares of the latter 4 categories in the total volume spilt in 2016 appear low, in comparison to those of crude oils and light refined oils. Despite a single occurrence involving the loss of a cargo of coal by the bulk carrier New Mykonos in the coastal waters of Madagascar, the coal derivatives category represents the overwhelming majority of the 2016 total (Fig. 2).


Inland waters

Frequency of spills by source

In 2016, 30 incidents followed by significant spills (≥ 10 t.) were identified in inland waters, a value slightly below the median for the period 2004-2015 (38), calculated based on annual data collected in a similar way, and below the medians calculated for 4-year periods. The year 2016 would therefore appear to be a year during which the number of significant incidents identified by Cedre was lower than that of previous years, a result which could potentially point to a downward trend that remains to be confirmed.


Various types of ships were responsible for 10% of incidents, divided between tank barges (7%) and workboats (4%), with a similar frequency to land transport-tanker trucks and rail tank cars- involved in 7 and 3% of incidents respectively. The other types of sources identified in 2016 (factories, various SMEs, etc.) were involved in less than 5 % of significant spills during the year. In approximately 7% of cases, the spill was connected to unspecified onshore facilities.





Quantities spilt by source

Given the patchy nature of the data identified, the relative shares of the overall total volume cannot be accurately established, with some of these shares evidently being underestimated. Bearing in mind this reservation, we note nevertheless the 35% share of tanker barges (around 4,000 tonnes), mainly due to the sinking of a barge on the Mississippi and the loss of its cargo of liquid fertilisers. The second visible share is that of land pipelines, representing around 33% of the total quantity spilt, due to the high frequency of incidents on such structures (see above), generally causing spills in excess of 100 tonnes, or even 1000 tonnes (as was the case of the spill of nearly 1,200 m³ of petrol from the Colonial Pipeline in the US in September, which alone accounted for nearly a third of this share). Despite its low frequency, the factories/miscellaneous category represented around 30% of the total quantity. This share can be accounted for by a single yet major spill which occurred at a sugar plant in El Salvador in May (spill of over 3,000 tonnes of molasses, see above). The other sources represented a negligible (less than 1%), or unknown, proportion of the estimated total for 2016.


Quantities spilt by pollutant type

Although figures are not available for certain categories of pollutant, the largest share of the 2016 total would appear to be oil, with almost 4,000 tonnes of oil products spilt, i.e. a total share (again underestimated) of around 35% of the annual total. Among these oil products we can distinguish:

  • light refined products (such as diesel and petrol), which represent the largest proportion (around 15% of the total), due to 7 spills including a petrol spill from a US pipeline which accounts for 2/3 of this share.
  • in second position, the share of crude oil(most often of unspecified density), of which the known quantities totalled around 1,220 tonnes, i.e. around 11% of the overall total. According to the data at our disposal, this share was largely due to spills from pipelines in Peru.
  • biofuels represent 4% of the total quantity spilt (and 10% of the oil category), accounted for by a significant incident: that of the Donges (Vern--sur-Seiche ) pipeline in spring 2016 in the Loire-Atlantique area of France.

Chemical spills represent approximately 35% of the total quantity spilt in 2016, a share relatively close to that of oil. This share is almost entirely dominated by the liquid mineral fertilisers category, due to a single spill of over 3,900 m³  of urea and ammonium nitrate when a barge sank in the Mississippi in January 2016. Finally, the organic matter category also significantly contributed to the overall total, representing 30%, due to a spill of 3,400 tonnes of liquid foodstuff (in this case molasses, spilt from a sugar factory) into a river in El Salvador.


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