Update on the MS Oliva wrecking at Nightingale Island


In the early morning of Wednesday 16 March 2011 the bulk carrier, MS Oliva ran aground off Nightingale Island, part of the UK Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha. The vessel was en route from Santos in Brazil to Singapore with a cargo of soya beans. The crew of the Oliva were rescued and safely taken to the main island of  Tristan. Soon after the grounding the vessel broke apart and sank, releasing approximately 1,500 tonnes of heavy fuel oil into the ocean.


JNCC is working to support nature conservation at Tristan through the ACAP (Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels) officer and the JNCC regional hub for the UK South Atlantic Overseas Territories.


The Tristan islands are globally important breeding sites for a number of seabirds, including the Endangered Northern Rockhopper Penguin, and other biodiversity, including the Tristan Rock Lobster, which is the mainstay of the Tristan economy. These islands host millions of other nesting seabirds, including several endemic species, some of which have also been reported oiled. The oil slick subsequently spread to Inaccessible Island, part of a World Heritage Site and a Ramsar site of International Importance. Oil and oiled birds were also later recorded offshore and on the main island of Tristan.


The immediate threats posed by the wrecking of the vessel included oil contamination of seabirds and other marine life, and the possible introduction of rodents from the wrecked vessel to Nightingale Island, which, prior to the incident, was free of introduced mammals. 


Efforts began immediately to capture oiled Rockhopper Penguins on Nightingale Island, and later on Inaccessible, where efforts were also directed at corralling un-oiled birds on the island, to prevent them from entering the contaminated water. As many un-oiled birds as possible were later transported by boat beyond the polluted waters, where they were released. The oiled birds were transported to the main island of Tristan, where facilities were set up to stabilise, treat and clean the birds. In total, close to 4,000 birds, mostly Rockhopper Penguins, were transported to the main island of Tristan.


The response and efforts of the Tristan Conservation team and the Tristan islanders, as well as staff from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and the Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB) who assisted in the post-spill response, was outstanding. The logistical challenges of mounting a response in such a remote location are enormous. On 21 June, nearly three months after the first oiled birds were brought ashore on Tristan for the long process of stabilisation, treatment and cleaning, the final batch of 180 cleaned birds was released. This brought to an end a remarkable process to save as many oiled birds as possible. Despite these amazing efforts, about 90% of the oiled birds that were caught did not survive the rehabilitation process. This is not surprising, given the challenging circumstances with which the rescue operation had to contend. Moreover, the spill occurred during the annual moult of the penguins and because penguins fast during their moult they would have lost a significant amount of weight by the end of the process, and so would have been more vulnerable to the impacts of oiling than at other times of the year. It is not known how many penguins died or were affected by the oil spill in total, and it will be crucial to monitor the populations over the next few years to assess the real impact of the spill.


An Environmental Disaster Fund has been set up by the RSPB to assist with the local monitoring of penguins and other affected wildlife in the months and years ahead. Donations can be made at the website


Immediately following the spill, the Tristan Conservation team deployed rodent traps and bait stations around the wreck site. Again, this was a challenging operation due to the precipitous nature of the terrain. Thankfully, at the time of this report (June 2011), no rodents had been detected ashore at Nightingale Island.


Further information and photographs can be seen at the Tristan da Cunha website.


Contact File


Anton Wolfaardt

ACAP Coordinator, UK South Atlantic Overseas Territories

Tel: 00500 54068


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