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Damage from Pakistan Tanker Spill Documented - 23 Sep 2003

Bangkok, September 23, 2003 - An international team convened to assess the environmental damage caused by oil spilled from the tanker MT Tasman Spirit has reported its findings and recommendations to the Government of Pakistan.

The United Nations Environment Programme, which provided inputs and advice on the preparation of the report together with the World Conservation Union (IUCN), said that acute effects were evident and further scientific investigation was warranted to determine the extent of damage to the ecosystems around Karachi.

The report recommends that the Government of Pakistan negotiate with the ‘Responsible Party’ to finance this study as part of an overall claim for damages.

The MT Tasman Spirit was carrying 67,000 tonnes of Iranian crude oil when it ran aground off the Port of Karachi during a monsoon on 27 July. After breaking up on August 13, 27,000 tonnes of cargo were lost over the next five days, with further smaller spills reported up until September 4.

The preliminary assessment report estimated that, despite intensive efforts to transfer, disperse, contain and recover the oil, the area impacted by the spill covers at least 40 square kilometres.

It documents reports of extensive hydrocarbon contamination in seawater samples; counts of a 1,000 dead fish at a single sampling station in a day; cell damage in phytoplankton communities; reduced numbers of polycheate worms, shellfish and starfish in the surface sands of Clifton Beach; and a possible loss of regeneration in mangroves.

It also notes that 250 people sought treatment at a medical camp set up after the spill for respiratory ailments attributed to petroleum carbon exposure.

Further immediate work is needed on the trajectory of the spill, sampling of water and sediments, biological monitoring and carcass surveys, the report says. It also calls for more detailed assessment of health impacts on the local population and other socio-economic damages.

This should be followed by in depth studies to determine the impacts on mangroves, fish and shellfish, birds, marine mammals and sea turtles.

The report concludes that these findings should then form the basis for long-term studies and a restoration programme.

The report recommends that this three-phase ‘Natural Resource Damage Assessment’ be coordinated by the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency, with continuing technical advice from IUCN Pakistan and UNEP, and the support of local scientific experts.

It also recommends that Pakistan Government strengthen its capacity for responding to future oil spills and ratifies the international conventions on liability and compensation for oil pollution damage.


An Evaluation Impact Committee coordinated by the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency prepared the preliminary assessment report for the Government of Pakistan. The country office of the United Nations Development Programme assisted through monetary and technical support. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs of the (OCHA) supported and facilitated UNEP’s participation.

For more information contact:

Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 20 623292, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 682656, email: eric.falt@unep.org; or Nick Nuttall, Head of Media, DCPI on Tel: 254 20 623084, Mobile: 254 733 632755, email: nick.nuttall@unep.org; or Tim Higham, UNEP Regional Information Officer, Bangkok, phone +66 2 2882127, email higham@un.org.

A previous release ‘UNEP sends advisor to Pakistan oil spill site’ is available at http://www.roap.unep.org/html/nr/nrhq03-46.htm

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer's statement on tanker oil spill issues, made following the loss of the vessel Prestige off the Spanish Coast in November 2002, is available at


UNEP News Release 2003/51