Argo Merchant Oil Spill

In the early morning of December 15, 1976, the Liberian tanker Argo Merchant went aground on Fishing Rip (Nantucket Shoals), 29 nautical miles southeast of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts in high winds and ten foot seas. The vessel was carrying approximately 183,000 barrels of No. 6 Fuel Oil (80%) and cutter stock (20%). The master of the vessel requested permission to dump cargo in an effort to control draft and re-float the vessel. Permission was denied and attempts to lighter and re-float the vessel using emergency pumps and an Air Deliverable Anti-Pollution Transfer System (ADAPTS) were unsuccessful.

The following day, the weather worsened and the crew of the Argo Merchant was evacuated. On December 17, the vessel began to pivot clockwise and buckle. On December 21, the vessel broke in two, spilling approximately 36,000 barrels of cargo. The bow section split forward of the bridge and capsized on December 22, resulting in the loss of the remaining cargo. The bow section floated 400-500 yards to the southeast and was eventually sunk by the U.S. Coast Guard while the stern section remained aground.

Prevailing currents carried the spilled oil away from the shorelines and beaches of Nantucket. Weather conditions and uncharted depths surrounding the wreck made salvage attempts difficult.

Photos: View historical images from this 1976 oil spill.

More Information: Learn more about the spill and its response on OR&R's IncidentNews website.

Argo Merchant: A Woods Hole Scientist's Personal Perspective

This is sixth in a series of six stories examining the oil spill in 1976 of tanker Argo Merchant resulting in the creation of the Office of Response and Restoration.

Argo Merchant: What if it happened today?

This is fifth in a series of six stories examining the oil spill in 1976 of tanker Argo Merchant resulting in the creation of the Office of Response and Restoration.

Dec. 16, 2016 -- Whenever oil is transported there is a risk of accidents and spills, but the 40 years since the Argo Merchant oil spill have seen improvements in laws, shipping technology and spill response.

Tools and Products: 40 Years of Spill Technology

This is fourth in a series of six stories examining the oil spill in 1976 of tanker Argo Merchant resulting in the creation of the Office of Response and Restoration.

Dec. 15, 2016 -- Earlier stories have described the Argo Merchant oil spill as the catalyst for the creation of the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R). Its ongoing partnership with the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and other agencies has expanded from scientific support to include the latest developments in spill response technology.

Argo Merchant: The Birth of Modern Oil Spill Response

This is third in a series of six stories examining the oil spill in 1976 of tanker Argo Merchant resulting in the creation of the Office of Response and Restoration.

Dec. 14, 2016 -- When the Argo Merchant ran aground on Nantucket Shoals off Massachusetts early on Dec. 15, 1976, and spilled nearly 8 million gallons of heavy fuel oil, it became the worst marine oil spill the United States had seen. It also led to the eventual creation of the Office of Response and Restoration (OR&R).

Argo Merchant: The Growth of Scientific Support

This is second in a series of six stories examining the oil spill in 1976 of tanker Argo Merchant resulting in the creation of the Office of Response and Restoration.

Dec. 13, 2016 -- Disasters often spark major changes.

Emergency Response and Assessment 40 Years after Argo Merchant

This is first in a series of six stories examining the oil spill in 1976 of tanker Argo Merchant resulting in the creation of the Office of Response and Restoration.

Dec. 12, 2016 -- On Dec. 15, 1976, the tanker Argo Merchant ran aground off the coast of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts.