The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise is still being held by the Russian authorities in Murmansk.
AP Photo/Petar Petrov
If we judged the worst oil spills in history only by gallons leaked, the Exxon Valdez disaster -- which occurred 25 years ago today -- would not make the list. However, adding in environmental impacts and clean-up efforts, it's still recognized as one of most damaging spills to date. In 2009, Exxon Mobil Corp. was ordered to pay about $500 million in interest on punitive damages for the oil spill off Alaska, nearly doubling the payout to Alaska Natives, fishermen, business owners and others harmed by the 1989 disaster. Debate continues over what qualifies as an oil "disaster," but here are 10 that would certainly make the list.BLOG: Sea Otters Finally Rebound From Exxon Valdez
NOAA, USGS, Getty Images
As the largest oil spill disaster in U.S. history, the
incident continues to leave an incredibly damaging black mark. Shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989, the tanker was traveling outside of normal shipping lanes to avoid ice, when it struck the Blight Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Out of the 53 million gallons of crude oil onboard, 11 million gallons were lost in the accident. The size of the spill and its remote location in the pristine Alaskan wilderness made clean-up a horrendous task. Ten million birds, whales, otters and other animals were placed immediately at risk and thousands died.VIDEO: Gulf Oil Spill Threatens Seafood
NOAA, United States Coast Guard, AP Photo/Edd
On March 18, 1967, the
entire cargo of 119,000 tons of Kuwait crude oil was lost after the tanker ran aground on Pollard Rock on the Seven Stones Reef off of Lands End, England. The Royal Navy dispatched a clean-up response team within four hours of the grounding. By March 26, the entire vessel had broken apart, putting an end to any hopes of towing the ship off the reef. The British government eventually decided to bomb it.BLOG: Dolphin Health 'Grave' After BP Oil Spill
In the early morning hours of Dec. 15, 1976, the crew of the aging Liberian oil tanker
could not keep control in the rough waves and 50-knot winds during a storm off the coast of Nantucket. The ship ran aground among the Nantucket shoals. On Dec. 16, the crew was evacuated, and by Dec. 22, the ship had broken into three pieces, spilling all of its 7.7 million barrels of oil into the ocean. Constant bad weather made salvage attempts very difficult, but environmentalists said damage to local waters were minimal. Strong currents carried the oil away from the Massachusetts shoreline and forced it out to sea.BLOG: Record Dolphin, Sea Turtle Deaths Since Gulf Spill
NOAA, National Institute of Health, Associate
Stormy weather, rough seas and a faulty piece of steering equipment proved to be a fatal combination for the
on March 16, 1978. The enormous vessel -- carrying almost 2 million barrels of oil -- was sailing from the Arabian Gulf to Le Havre, France when it ran aground on Portsall Rocks, three miles off the coast of Brittany, during a severe storm. The entire cargo spilled into the water, creating an oil slick 18 miles wide and 80 miles long, and it wasn't long before the force of the storm caused the ship to break apart.BLOG: Shipwreck Oil Spill Time Bombs Identified
United Press International; Photo by Hein Hin
The only thing worse than one oil tanker exploding and sinking while at sea, is two oil tankers colliding at sea. During the rage of a tropical storm in the Caribbean, two giant supertankers, the
, each carrying over 200,000 tons of crude oil, collided near the islands of Trinidad and Tobago on July 19, 1979. The impact caused enormous, violent fires to break out over both ships. Between the two ships, 26 crew members died and 280,000 tons of crude oil were spilled into the Caribbean. Fortunately, the spills never reach shorelines.BLOG: World War II Shipwrecks Pose Oil Spill Threat
NOAA, United States Coast Guard, Getty Images
In the Bay of Campeche off the coast of Mexico, 600 miles south of Texas, the company Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) was drilling a 2-mile-deep oil well called IXTOC I. On June 3, 1979, a loss of drilling mud circulation forced a blowout, causing oil and gas to spew out of the well and ignite. The platform holding the drilling equipment and collecting the oil immediately caught fire and collapsed into the water. Several rescue crews worked for days to try to reach the Blowout Preventer (BOP) -- a large valve used to seal off the surface of a wellhead -- but poor visibility, debris and a long pipeline made it difficult. The IXTOC I well continued to spill oil at a rate of 10,000 to 30,000 barrels per day until it was finally capped on March 23, 1980 -- nine months after the initial incident. By the time it was capped, over 140 million gallons of oil had seeped into the bay, making it the second worst oil spill disaster in history.
Environmental Protection Agency, Associated P
Kuwait oil spills during the Gulf War remain the worst examples of eco-terrorism and are by far the worst oil disasters in history. Beginning in January 1991 during the Gulf War, the Iraqi Army deliberately spilled millions of barrels of oil in the Persian Gulf. Over 500 Kuwaiti tankers, oil fields and refineries were torched, and 3 to 6 million barrels of oil went up in smoke on a daily basis at the peak of the burnings. One 6-million-barrel spill covered over 600 square miles of water and the oil traveled as far as 20 miles away out into the Indian Ocean. The environmental and health risks were enormous, with over 90 million barrels of oil lost. Environmental experts deemed the incident 25 times more toxic than the Exxon Valdez.BLOG: Gulf Hit with Dirty Blizzard After Oil Spill
United Nations Environmental Programme, NOAA,
On April 11, 1991, while unloading crude oil onto a floating platform seven miles off the coast of Genoa, Italy, the MT
exploded, burned for three days and then sank, spilling over 42 million gallons of oil in its wake into the Mediterranean Sea. The Italian and French coastlines were polluted for 12 years after the accident.
Universidad de la Coruña, NOAA, Getty Images
When the huge oil tanker
wrecked about 130 miles of the coast of Galicia, Spain during a storm on Nov. 19, 2002. The ship broke apart and sank to the bottom as it spilled over 1.5 to 2 million gallons of oil into the Atlantic Ocean. Three massive "black tides" soiled 125 miles of Spanish coastline within two weeks after the accident. Considered to be twice as big as the
accident, the Prestige accident remains the worst oil spill in Spain's history.
USGS, Associated Press
An oil well blow out in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010, caused an offshore oil drilling platform to explode and sink, killing 11 men onboard. Government scientists declared the Deepwater Horizon spill the largest in U.S. history -- with twice as much oil spilled than in the Exxon Valdez disaster.PHOTOS: Alarming Images of Oil-Drenched Gulf
The last of the 26 foreign Greenpeace activists who were detained after an Arctic protest left Russia on Sunday, the group announced, finally ending a saga that had caused global concern.
Polish national Tomasz Dziemianczuk, 37, flew out from Saint Petersburg to Warsaw, Greenpeace said in a statement, following 25 other foreign activists who had all left by Saturday following a Kremlin amnesty.
Thirty activists, including four Russians, were detained in September over the protest against oil drilling by Russian energy giant Gazprom, where two campaigners had attempted to scale an oil rig in Arctic waters.
They were initially arrested when their Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise ship was seized by the Russian security forces who winched down from a helicopter in a commando-style operation.
The 30 were held in the Arctic Circle city of Murmansk before being transferred to Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg. They were charged with piracy although this was later changed to hooliganism.
It was courts in Saint Petersburg that in November ordered the release of all 30 on bail after more than two months in detention.
Their departure from Saint Petersburg was made possible by the Kremlin-backed amnesty, which resulted in the closure of all the criminal cases and allowed the foreigners to leave Russia.
The amnesty came after concerns raised by EU states, including Britain and Germany, over the charges against the so-called Arctic 30.
The Arctic Sunrise ship remains under Russian control in Murmansk and Greenpeace had made clear that it wants its vessel back. The four Russian activists also benefited from the amnesty and are free to travel inside and outside the country.
"I am very happy to be going home, but I don't feel the same for the ship and its future. I am emotionally connected to both the crew and the ship and for me the case will be over when the ship is back in Amsterdam," Greenpeace quoted Dziemianczuk as saying before leaving Russia.
"We sailed north to take action against the oil companies lining up to profit from the melting Arctic sea ice and this is far from over.
"This was only a great beginning to our Arctic campaign."
Greenpeace activists were detained in September as they tried to board the Prirazlomnaya offshore oil platform in the Pechora Sea to protest against oil drilling in the Arctic.Corbis
'No Amnesty for the Arctic'
Greenpeace argues that the Gazprom rig is an environmental catastrophe waiting to happen that risks ruining the pristine Arctic ecology of the southern Barents Sea where the deposit is located.
Ben Ayliffe, Arctic campaigner at Greenpeace International, vowed that the group would not let up in its campaign to save the Arctic environment.
"We're relieved the Arctic 30 are going home, but they should never have been charged in the first place.
"We will not stay silent while companies like Gazprom and Shell line up to profit from the Arctic's destruction. Today is only the end of one chapter and we start another.
"There has been no amnesty for the Arctic and this is far from over," he said in a Greenpeace statement.
The Kremlin amnesty came less than two months before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, and critics have described it as an attempt to shore up Russia's human rights image ahead of the Games.
The two jailed members of Pussy Riot punk band, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina, were freed on Monday after benefiting from the same amnesty.
In apparent defiance of Greenpeace, Gazprom earlier this month announced launching oil production at the Prirazlomnaya oil rig that had been the target of the activists' actions.