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Laura D'Amato, 3 August 1999

On 3 August 1999 the Laura D’Amato, a 96,121 DWT Italian registered oil tanker, was berthed alongside at the Shell Gore Bay terminal in Sydney discharging its cargo of Murban light crude oil.

Between 6.26 pm and 6.50 pm an estimated 250 to 300 tonnes of cargo was pumped into Sydney Harbour from the ship through an open sea valve system. These sea valves are normally closed.

This was the largest ship-sourced oil spill in Sydney Harbour.

The prevailing conditions of a southerly wind and flood tide confined the majority of the oil to Gore Cove and Balls Head Bay, restricting the movement of the oil throughout the harbour.

Rapid reaction by the Sydney Ports Corporation duty operational crew and the Shell Gore Bay terminal staff had the vessel surrounded by boom by 7.10 pm, minimising the spread of oil.

By 7.30 pm the Sydney Ports Corporation oil spill response Incident Control Centre at Moores Warehouse, Millers Point, was operational, with the Incident Commander in position and the overall Incident Controller mobilised soon after.

The Master of the Laura D’Amato reported the spill was 14 cubic metres in size. However, estimates late in the evening by the Shell Gore Bay terminal staff showed that the spill could have been between 80 and 300 cubic metres.

It was on this basis that Shell mobilised its own staff and contractors, including additional response equipment and personnel from the industry’s central stockpile at the Geelong based Australian Marine Oil Spill Centre. The range of spill size was not formally communicated to the Incident Commander at the time.

During the night it became clear from observations of the extensive oil movement in the harbour that a significantly larger quantity than 14 cubic metres of oil had been spilt, confirming a higher spill size, possibly within the range estimated by Shell.

The Incident Commander mobilised National Plan resources directly from other NSW ports and interstate from Brisbane, Melbourne and Canberra through AMSA.

Helicopter surveillance was used to monitor the movement, location and fate of the spilled oil and to direct oil recovery vessels and other oil removal devices.

Marco Oil Recovery Vessel in action during Sydney Harbour oil spill involving two workers skimming oil from the surface of the water","title":"Marco Oil Recovery Vessel in action during Sydney Harbour oil spill involving two workers skimming oil from the surface of the water

Oil recovery operations using 5 Marco oil spill recovery vessels, a boat mounted brush skimmer, a number of disk and weir skimmers together with a variety of boom types and shore flushing equipment was used on a daily basis up to 14 August 1999.

Spot cleaning of foreshores continued until 20 August 1999. Overall, a very high proportion of the spilt oil was recovered. Of the 250-300 tonnes spilt, an estimated 120-150 tonnes of oil was lost through evaporation. Of the remaining oil, 90 per cent was recovered.

The clean-up of the spill involved over 300 people representing a wide range of agencies, including:

  • NSW Department of Transport
  • Sydney Ports Corporation
  • NSW Waterways Authority
  • Newcastle Port Corporation
  • Port Kembla Port Corporation
  • the oil industry
  • AMSA
  • Maritime Safety Agency of New Zealand
  • Queensland Transport
  • Port of Brisbane Corporation
  • Skilled Maritime Victoria
  • the Marine Board of Victoria.


On 16 March 2000, Justice Talbot in the Land and Environment Court fined the Italian shipping company, Fratelli D'Amato, $510,000. The chief officer was also fined $110,000.

An incident analysis team was formed to analyse the response to the spill.

Related information

Read the report of the incident analysis team about the response to the Laura D'Amato oil spill PDF1.29 MB.

A report into the cause of the spill was undertaken by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau

Last updated: 9 November 2020