ITOPF Celebrating 50 Years : Promoting Effective Spill Response

For half a century, ITOPF has been at the forefront of promoting effective response to spills of oil, HNS and other substances in the marine environment. Maintained as a not-for-profit organisation by the world’s shipowners and their insurers, its technical services include emergency response, advice on clean-up techniques, damage assessment, claims analysis, and assistance with planning and training.

“The industry has recognised its responsibility to the citizens of the world and has given the highest priority to the protection of our marine environment.” Adolph B Kurz, ITOPF Chairman (1973-1982)

ITOPF’s Vision

To be a trusted source of objective technical advice worldwide on preparedness and response to accidental marine spills

How it all began

The night before Christmas....

On Christmas Eve 1968 the International Tanker Owners Pollution Federation Ltd (ITOPF) was officially established. Its principal purpose was to administer TOVALOP, a unique voluntary oil pollution compensation scheme set up by shipowners and their insurers.

  • TORREY CANYON runs aground off the Cornish coast, this focuses the world’s attention on the risks and environmental impacts of major marine spills and is a catalyst for positive change.
  • An IMCO conference in Brussels drafts the 1969 Civil Liability Convention (CLC) based upon TOVALOP, with strict liability and compulsory insurance.
  • ITOPF officially established to administer TOVALOP
  • TOVALOP comes into force upon securing 50% of the world’s tanker tonnage as Members.


ITOPF grows, expands its Membership and is increasingly influential in spill response.

ITOPF started the decade solely as the administrator of TOVALOP. It soon became evident that while TOVALOP helped to ensure that clean-up costs incurred by governments and tanker owners in responding to spills were reimbursed, there was no ready source of advice to help them undertake the response in the most efficient and cost effective way. A Technical Department was established in 1971 to give immediate "fire-brigade" assistance whenever and wherever an oil spill might occur.

In the early 70s “oil pollution response was handled with notably little enthusiasm and even less ability. I saw this first hand at the spills I attended in my first two years at the Federation. It was not difficult for the Federation to provide the enthusiasm and, with time, experience alone went a long way to make up for any lack of knowledge.” Mike Garnett, Technical Manager, 1975-1987
  • A Technical Department is established to give immediate “fire-brigade” assistance whenever and wherever an oil spill might occur.
  • MT SAIJA, off Corsica, is the first incident attended by an ITOPF Technical Adviser, producing the first ITOPF Sitrep.
  • Mike Garnett, formerly of the Royal Navy, joins ITOPF in 1973, becoming Technical Manager in 1975.
  • ITOPF starts to provide advice to governments and oil companies on contingency planning.
  • ITOPF launches a database of statistics on the number and type of oil spills from tankers occurring in the world.
  • Work begins on establishing a comprehensive technical information service and library on oil pollution.
  • ITOPF undertakes its first consultancy assignment - a survey of spill response arrangements in 18 countries for the European Economic Community (EEC).
  • ITOPF has its first peer-reviewed paper published (Marine Pollution Bulletin).


The number of major tanker spills reduces; ITOPF consolidates its position as the leading and most trusted provider of technical advice and develops its training and education role.

The number of large tanker spills decreased owing to the combined efforts of governments and industry to improve safety and pollution prevention. ITOPF developed its work to include the key services of training and education and continued to undertake a number of carefully selected advisory assignments. This complemented its response activities by familiarising the team with response resources and key personnel around the world and also helped ITOPF to become more widely accepted as an international centre of expertise on marine oil pollution by governments, intergovernmental organisations, and the shipping and oil industries.

“Whilst the number of major oil spills from tankers continues to fall, the tanker industry remains alive to the importance of promoting effective pollution prevention measures. The continuous work of the Federation in improving spill preparedness and response demonstrates the collective commitment of the world’s shipowners to protecting the environment.” Dr Helmut Sohmen, Chairman, 2001-2006
  • ITOPF issues its first newsletter to Members.
  • ITOPF is granted Observer status by IMO and the IOPC Fund.
  • The first Technical Information Paper (TIP) is published.
  • ITOPF undertakes its first major training assignment (IMO Regional Training Course, Chile).
  • ITOPF acquires a mini-computer incorporating a word processor.
  • ITOPF makes its first foray into film making with the production of a 5-part series of training videos "Response to Marine Oil Spills".
  • Ian White and Joe Nichols take charge as Managing Director and Technical Manager respectively overseeing a team of 10 staff.
  • ITOPF publishes first edition of its “Response to Marine Oil Spills” book.


ITOPF responds to a spate of major spills, there is an important new Convention and non-tanker shipowners are invited to join

1990 saw the adoption of the International Convention on Oil Spill Preparedness, Response and Cooperation (OPRC) which provided a global framework to facilitate international co-operation and mutual assistance in preparing for and responding to major oil pollution incidents. When it entered into force in 1995, ITOPF assisted with implementation of the Convention requirements by providing support on contingency planning, drafting of technical guidelines and with training courses and exercises.

ITOPF remained a tanker owners’ organisation, however, the owners and bareboat charterers of non-tankers became eligible to join ITOPF as Associates.

“ITOPF is committed to joining its partners in continued support for effective spill response arrangements. As maritime trade continues to expand to accommodate the needs of emerging economies, it is important that all nations and all parties embrace the principles enshrined in the array of international standards and legal instruments, which have stood the test of time.” Bjorn Moller, Chairman, 2006-2014
  • ITOPF takes an active role in the diplomatic conference that finalises the OPRC Convention and participates in meetings of the OPRC Working Group at IMO.
  • TOVALOP is terminated as the international compensation Conventions gain wider acceptance. The provision of technical services now becomes ITOPF’s primary function.
  • The first ITOPF logo appears, affectionately known as ‘the snail’.
  • The first edition of “Ocean Orbit” is published.
  • ITOPF employs its first female Technical Adviser.
  • ITOPF launches its first website.


Bunker and chemical spills become more prominent, new risk areas emerge and assessment of environmental damage is more sophisticated.

A noticeable feature of the incidents attended during this decade was the large number of cases that occurred in South East Asia. The number of spills, and the complexity of the issues provided the impetus for ITOPF’s investment in outreach work in the region. Spills of substances other than oil also demanded more attention during this decade. In 2003 ITOPF established an internal Hazardous and Noxious Substances (HNS) Working Group to ensure prompt advice could be given in the event of the threat or actual spillage of HNS.

Environmental damage assessments featured more prominently due to the complexity of issues that arose from shipsource pollution cases.

“In a world where accidents cannot be predicted it is reassuring to know that an organisation with the depth of experience as exists amongst the team in ITOPF can be relied upon to provide objective, science-based technical support to those involved in an incident, no matter whether they be the owner, insurer or claimant.” Paddy Rodgers, Chairman, 2014-Present
  • In 2003 ITOPF was recognised for its “outstanding services for the benefit of the marine environment” by winning the Thor Heyerdahl International Maritime Environmental Award.
  • ITOPF delivers its first chemical response training course (East Asia Response Ltd, Singapore)
  • ITOPF develops an in-house GIS.
  • ITOPF moves to its current premises in Oliver’s Yard.
ITOPF Logo 1999-2018


Containers and wrecks, the Arctic region and a commitment to Research and Development.

While the fate and behaviour of oil is generally well understood, the same cannot be said of lost containers or their cargoes. ITOPF provided technical advice, both on site and remotely, on a variety of different cargoes, including coal, cereals, HNS, timber and even livestock. ITOPF also provided objective technical advice on a wide range of environmental impacts associated with shipwrecks. The importance of ITOPF’s work in wreck removal was recognised when it won the Salvage & Wreck Conference Environmental Protection Award 2017.

ITOPF highlighted key countries and regions where the level of risk and preparedness warrants special attention. An internal working group was formed in order to expand its knowledge of Arctic and ice-related issues and to monitor technological and regulatory developments.

“The staff are, and always will be, core to the success of ITOPF. We owe a debt of gratitude, and remember with fondness, those before us who were key to making ITOPF the successful organisation it is today. Our team has built on the foundations laid over the past 50 years and is poised to ensure ITOPF excels in delivering its uniquely valuable services over the next 50.” Karen Purnell, Managing Director, 2009-Present
  • The ITOPF R&D Award is established, providing up to £50,000 each year to encourage innovative thinking and provide realistic solutions to the challenges of spill response and environmental monitoring.
  • ITOPF becomes a visiting professor at the World Maritime University in Sweden.
  • A new set of TIPs is published.
  • A children’s website and games app are released.
  • A new film “Oil spills in cold climates” is produced.
  • ITOPF organises an exhibition with IMO and IOPC Funds to mark 50 years of government/industry partnership to reduce the risk of oil pollution from ships.
  • ITOPF launch a new logo to celebrate its 50 year anniversary.
The Next 50 Years...


Created with images by ITOPF Photos Mariamichelle - "cruise ship waves caribbean desktop" • Shaah Shahidh - "untitled image" • Eric Nopanen - "Boombox" • PublicDomainPictures - "freighter cargo ship industry port goods transportation"

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.