Aegean Sea tanker oil spill

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The Aegean Sea tanker oil spill was a spill that occurred on 3 December 1992 when the double-bottom Greek-flagged oil tanker, Aegean Sea, en route to Repsol refinery in A Coruña, Spain, suffered an accident off the Galician coast. The ship had successfully passed all required tests and revisions.[1] The accident occurred during extreme weather conditions and affected the Galician coast resulting in ecosystem damage, as well as damage to the fishing and tourist industries in A Coruña. The captain and pilot were found to be criminally liable and the shipowner took on much of the monetary liability.[2]

The anchor of Aegean Sea at Aquarium Finisterrae in A Coruña, Galicia, Spain


After being anchored for a few days off the coast of A Coruña due to weather hazards, Aegean Sea was ordered into port by port authorities. Due to this, on 3 December 1992, the oil-ore Greek carrier ship Aegean Sea, ran aground off the coast of Galicia at nearly 5 AM.[3] The ship was on its route to A Coruña, Spain, from Sullom Voe, Scotland. Allegedly, a heavy storm managed to push the ship off course and cause her to run aground. A rescue team was sent immediately but failed to keep the ship from breaking in half. This caused the cargo of light crude oil to be spilled which affected sea life. A temporary evacuation of the city of A Coruña was implemented in order to protect the citizens from the hazards of the oil smoke. Out of the 79,000 tonnes of crude oil that the ship was carrying, 67,000 tonnes managed to be spilled and the remaining was salvaged. The salvaged oil was retained through the use of booms, skimmers, and pumps. Since half of the ship was still above water, the rescue team used pumps to drain the still intact tanks. Soon after, the ship caught on fire and continued to burn for a period of five days. The remaining oil drifted with the strong currents produced by the wind, and as much as 300 km of coast line were affected by the spill. As for the thirty-two-man crew, a rescue helicopter managed to save all of them.[2]

As the vessel prepared to enter the docks of A Coruña, the wind speed was above 50 kn (93 km/h; 58 mph), and visibility was under 100 m (110 yd), causing her to lose her assigned course. Aegean Sea broke up and exploded with 50 m (160 ft) flames near the Tower of Hercules, spilling more than 70,000 tons of oil into the ocean.

The two anchors of Aegean Sea were recovered, and are now on display at Aquarium Finisterrae in A Coruña, and at the Philippe Cousteau Museum at Salinas, Asturias.[4]

Clean-up process

To clean up this disaster, clean-up crews were immediately put forward. Some were in charge of on-shore clean-up, and the others were in charge of off-shore clean-up. As an off-shore median, oil booms were placed around the spill in order to contain the oil. The booms collected around 5,000 cubic meters of oil, with a mixture of water. On shore, 1,200 cubic meters of contaminated sand and debris were treated for oil. Since only the bow of Aegean Sea had sunk, pumps were placed in the stern and they pumped out the remaining oil.[5]

Aftermath and investigation

The Aegean Sea oil spill affected countless amounts of sea life. A Coruña fishing industry received the hardest blow, with the ban of all fishing from the Fisheries council. A claim for fishers' assistance that totalled nearly 3.53 million dollars was implemented soon after the oil spill. Although the Fisheries Council aided the fishers with some reimbursements, it was nowhere near what they actually needed. A flood of claims from fishermen and the tourist industry came to the Spanish Court, totalling around 287 million dollars by 2001. Most of these claims were settled, but some claims remain litigious. The International Oil Pollution Compensation (IOPC), the Spanish Government, and the ship owner and his club finally came to a settlement, and the last payment was paid in December 2003.[5] In addition to the monetary settlements, the captain, Constantine Stavrides, and the pilot were also found criminally liable for negligence and for failing to follow regulations.[5]

Hydrocarbon study

Hydrocarbons, being an extremely great source of energy due to their strong chemical bonds, were a great source of study in the Aegean Sea oil spill. Chemical markers were placed in a sample of the crude oil spilled, and an interesting data was revealed. Alkanes and acyclic hydrocarbons, both having single bonds, appeared to have deteriorated in only six months, while triterpane and steranane were still present after years of weathering. Both triterpane and steranane have multiple bonds, which is the reason they were still present after so many years. As a conclusion for the study, they stated that chemical markers are a great source to use against oil spills. Apparently, they allow a scientist to determine how long the oil has contaminated the sea water, and how the sea water affected the oil collected with water. For instance, thousands of cubic meters of oil were collected through oil booms. Meaning, the oil is mixed with water and that a cleansing process must take place in order to use the oil once again. Chemical markers may now be placed into to the oil to determine how much the oil must be cleaned in order for it to be satisfactory.[6]

Aegean Sea ship

The ship may now[when?] be found off the coast of A Coruña, Spain, although the stern is the only part of the ship that is visible. Two anchors from Aegean Sea were recovered and are now in display at an aquarium in A Coruña named Aquarium Finisterrae. The aquarium is popular for a displaying marine life found in the coast of A Coruña, and also for their display of shipwreck items. Only the two anchors from Aegean Sea are on display though.[7]

Ecosystem study

The Galician coast was an extremely vital source of income for Spain and the fishermen. Popular catch was crab, lobster, salmon farming, and their main profit came from their production of shellfish. Soon after the oil spill, Spain ordered a study of the ecosystem in order to evaluate the damage done to the benthic fauna in the region, and muddy sediments.[8] This study was enforced due to the fact that an earlier oil spill had occurred in the same area; on May 12, 1976, the supertanker Urquiola scraped the bottom of the channel entrance in A Coruña, causing the ship to spill its cargo of 107,000 tons of oil. This, in turn, affected sea life as well as subtidal sediments, but the surviving sea life developed a defense mechanism which allowed them to survive such a crisis. The sea life in A Coruña seemed normal, but a second spilled occurred on December 3, 1993, this being Aegean Sea, which affected sea life once again. To determine the damage done to the sea life, a study was designed by determining the species richness, abundance, and biomass. Scientist analyzed the change from December 1992 to November 1996, and realized that the macrobenthic communities living in the coast of the affected areas displayed a similar trend as the original organisms in Urquiola's oil spill. Amphipods seemed to be affected the hardest by the oil spill, and experienced a high mortality rate up to the spring of 1995; also, a low abundance rate was experienced throughout this time Soon after, the species seemed to recover until the end of 1996. towards the end of the study, a trend was discovered in which resistant species dominated the ecosystem. A third oil spill occurred around the same area in A Coruña in which a tanker, Prestige, carrying 77,000 tons of oil crack into two and spilled its cargo. 10,000 tons of oil was spilled but the sunken hull of Prestige is still leaking oil from her tanks to this day[when?].[9]

See Also


  1. "Aegean Sea". Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 28 August 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Aegean Sea. (n.d.). Cedre : Centre de documentation, de recherche et d'expérimentations sur les pollutions accidentelles des eaux. Retrieved 21 April 2013, from
  3. Press. (4 December 1992). The Post and Courier – Google News Archive Search. Google News. Retrieved 28 April 2013, from
  4. "El "Mar Egeo" y otros buques desmantelados" (in Spanish). Retrieved 28 August 2012. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Aegean Sea " Tankers, Big Oil and Pollution Liability. (n.d.). Tankers, Big Oil and Pollution Liability. Retrieved 21 April 2013, from
  6. Pastor, D., Sanchez, J., Porte, C., & Albaigés, J. (n.d.). - Marine Pollution Bulletin - The Aegean Sea Oil Spill in the Galicia Coast (NW Spain). I. Distribution and Fate of the Crude Oil and Combustion Products in Subtidal Sediments. | Search through over 11 million science, health, medical journal full text articles and books.. Retrieved 21 April 2013, from
  7. Category:Aegean Sea (ship, 1973) – Wikimedia Commons. (2012, October 20). Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved April 24, 2013, from
  8. Pastor, D., Sanchez, J., Porte C., & Albaiges, J.(2001). The Aegean Sea Oil Spill in the Galicia coast (NW Spain). I. Distribution and fate of the Crude Oil and Combustion Products in Subtidal Sediments. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 42 (10), 895–904.
  9. Gomez Gesteira, J.L., & Dauvin, J.C. (2004). Impact of the Aegean Sea oil spill on the subtidal fine sand macrobenthic community of the Ares-Betanzos Ria (Northwest Spain). Marine Environmental Research, 60 (2005), 289–316.

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