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Tanker oil spill in the Bohai bay near Tianjin, China


A collision in the early morning hours of November 23rd 2002 between the "Tasman Sea", a Maltese oil tanker laden with 81,000 tons of crude oil and a Chinese vessel, the "Shunkai No.1" triggered a massive oil spill. The spill caused serious pollution in the waters off the port of Tianjin and part of the bay area near the city of Tangshan, leaving behind a heavily polluted maritime ecological system [1].  According to official reports, the oil spill measured 2.5 nautical miles in length and 1.4 nautical miles in width in the Bohai Sea. [2]

The case is of paramount importance as it is the first in China in which maritime authorities used the courts to claim compensation for environmental damage at sea. With the authorization of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), the Tianjin Maritime Bureau brought a lawsuit in the Tianjin Maritime Court against the owners of the "Tasman Sea" (Infinity Shipping) and its insurer, the London Protection and Indemnity Club, seeking compensation for damage caused to the maritime environment. It is the first marine ecological claim in China, following its accession to the 1992 International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage [3].

On December 30, 2004, after two years of investigation, the Tianjin Maritime Court ordered the two defendants to pay out a total compensation of 42.9 million yuan (US$6.7 million) to the plaintiffs. Over 17 million yuan (US$2.6 million) were ordered to be paid out to the group of 1,490 fishermen plaintiffs, that had been impacted by the spill. Over 15 million yuan (US$2.3 million) were assigned to Tianjin Fisheries and Harbours Office for losses to fishery resources. Almost 10 million yuan (US$1.5 million) in compensation were intended for the Tianjin Maritime Bureau. Of which 7.5 million yuan were meant to compensate for the loss of environmental capacity and 2.5 million yuan making up for the costs of investigation. Following the verdict, the defendants immediately appealed to the Tianjin Higher People's Court. As a result, seven years later, the defendants only paid out about 21.2 million yuan (US$3.3 million), less than half of the original amount of compensation [4].

Despite the fact that the case against the Tasman Sea and its insurer was not a victory in financial terms, the lawsuit was a landmark for upcoming cases. It raised awareness between officials in Chinese maritime authorities for their possibilities in claiming compensation through the courts. Additionally it set a precedent for safeguarding the rights and interests of China's marine ecological environment, which has had a profound impact on the maintenance of China's marine ecological rights. The case served also as a precedent for finding within the scope of damages owed by a responsible party: losses to maritime ecological functions, cost of restoration of maritime sediment, cost of restoration of tidal shoals and other environmental costs [5].

The case of the Tasman Sea prompted the State Oceanic Administration in 2007 to publish the "Guidelines for Evaluation of Environmental Losses Due to Maritime Oil Spills" [6].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Tanker oil spill in the Bohai bay near Tianjin, China
State or province:Tianjin
(municipality or city/town)Sea area of Dagukou
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Aquaculture and fisheries
Specific commodities:Crude oil

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

The Maltese-registered "Tasman Sea" was loaded with 81,398 tons of crude oil for China International United Petroleum & Chemicals Co., Ltd. (UNIPEC). Around 160 tons of crude oil were leaking into the waters. The area affected by the oil spill was 359.6 km².

Level of Investment:unknown
Type of populationUnknown
Affected Population:unknown
Start of the conflict:30/11/2002
Company names or state enterprises:Infinity Shipping Corporation from Malta - Polluter
London Protection and Indemnity Club from United Kingdom - Insurer
Relevant government actors:-Tianjin Maritime Court (天津海事法院)

-Tianjin High People's Court (天津高级人民法院)

-Tianjin Maritime Bureau (天津海事局)

-State Oceanic Administration (SOA) (国家海洋局)

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local government/political parties
translation missing: en.m.mobilizing_groups.fisher_people
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Food insecurity (crop damage), Waste overflow
Other Environmental impactslosses of maritime ecological functions
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood, Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impacts cost of restoration of maritime sediment, and the restoration of tidal shoals


Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (failure for environmental justice)
New legislation
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:The financial compensation for the affected fishermen cannot be counted as a success, since the final sum of money was only half of the claimed prospect. Yet the case served as a pathfinder for following cases of oil spills and environmental pollution in China. It also prompted further research in the field, prompting the publishing of the "Guidelines for Evaluation of Environmental Losses Due to Maritime Oil Spills".

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

[3] International Maritime Organization (IMO): "International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (CLC)" (accessed: 02.03.19)

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[4] "China And The Environment: The Green Revolution", Sam Geall (Ed); Zed Books, 2013

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

[1] "塔斯曼海"油轮溢油污染渤海索赔案判决" (Tasman Sea" Tanker Oil Spill Pollution Bohai Claim) (accessed: 02.03.19)

[2] "Tanker Collision Forms Bohai Sea Oil Spill" (accessed: 02.03.19)

[5] "Losses at sea" (accessed: 02.03.19)

[6] "Murky Waters" (accessed: 02.03.19)

[7] 天津港海域油轮货轮相撞 原油泄漏渤海遭污(图) "Oil tanker cargo ship collided in Tianjin Port, crude oil leaked into the sea (Pictures)" (accessed: 02.03.19)

Other documents

[7] The Shunkai No.1 after the collision The Shunkai No. 1 is the Chinese vessel that has been involved in the accident

Meta information

Contributor:EnvJustice, ICTA-UAB/LUX
Last update11/03/2019



The Shunkai No.1 after the collision[7]

The Shunkai No. 1 is the Chinese vessel that has been involved in the accident