The Global Risk of Marine Pollution from WWII Shipwrecks:

Examples from the Seven Seas


Rean Monfils

Sea Australia





The world took notice and action when the oil tanker Prestige sank and leaked oil onto the coast of Spain and France.   Significant resources and considerable money was allocated to locate the wreck, patch the leaks and eventually offload the remaining oil. What is not well known, is that there is a significantly larger global marine pollution threat from over 7800 sunken WWII vessels worldwide, including over 860 oil tankers, corroding for over 60 years at the bottom of the worlds oceans.

Over the past three years, in conjunction with the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), a project has been completed by the author to compile data on WWII shipwrecks across the Asia/Pacific region.  This regional risk assessment is probably the first and most complete of its type so far published.

The Geographic Information System (GIS) database created for the Asia Pacific waters details ship type, tonnage and location of over 3,800 vessels lost in WWII.  This amounts to over 13 million tons of sunken vessels in the Pacific alone ranging from aircraft carriers to battleships, and including over 330 tankers and oilers. 

The creation of the Asia Pacific database acted as a catalyst to the creation of the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Indian Ocean (AMIO) WWII shipwreck database. This new geographic database, although still in its initial development, highlights the significant number of WWII shipwrecks globally. The AMIO database details the location and ownership of over 3950 vessels, over 1000 tons, of which 529 are oil tankers.

This paper details the information contained within the AMIO WWII shipwreck database including the potential oil and non-oil sources of marine pollution from these vessels.  WWII shipwrecks are unique from commercial and non-military shipwrecks due to sovereignty, jurisdictional and ownership issues and these differences will also be discussed. The paper concludes with a summary for future directions to address the many response and preparedness issues associated with WWII shipwrecks.