International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (CLC)

Adoption: 29 November 1969; Entry into force: 19 June 1975; Being replaced by 1992 Protocol: Adoption: 27 November 1992; Entry into force: 30 May 1996

The Civil Liability Convention was adopted to ensure that adequate compensation is available to persons who suffer oil pollution damage resulting from maritime casualties involving oil-carrying ships.

The Convention places the liability for such damage on the owner of the ship from which the polluting oil escaped or was discharged.
Subject to a number of specific exceptions, this liability is strict; it is the duty of the owner to prove in each case that any of the exceptions should in fact operate.  However, except where the owner has been guilty of actual fault, they may limit liability in respect of any one incident.
The Convention requires ships covered by it to maintain insurance or other financial security in sums equivalent to the owner's total liability for one incident.
The Convention applies to all seagoing vessels actually carrying oil in bulk as cargo, but only ships carrying more than 2,000 tons of oil are required to maintain insurance in respect of oil pollution damage.
This does not apply to warships or other vessels owned or operated by a State and used for the time being for Government non-commercial service. The Convention, however, applies in respect of the liability and jurisdiction provisions, to ships owned by a State and used for commercial purposes.  The only exception as regards such ships is that they are not required to carry insurance.  Instead they must carry a certificate issued by the appropriate authority of the State of their registry stating that the ship's liability under the Convention is covered.
The Convention covers pollution damage resulting from spills of persistent oils suffered in the territory (including the territorial sea) of a State Party to the Convention. It is applicable to ships which actually carry oil in bulk as cargo, i.e. generally laden tankers. Spills from tankers in ballast or bunker spills from ships other than other than tankers are not covered, nor is it possible to recover costs when preventive measures are so successful that no actual spill occurs. The shipowner cannot limit liability if the incident occurred as a result of the owner's personal fault.
The Protocol of 1976, which entered into force in 1981, provided for the aplicable unit of account used under the convention to be based on the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) as used by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), replacing the the "Poincaré franc", based on the "official" value of gold, as the applicable unit of account.
The Protocol of 1984 set increased limits of liability but was superseded by the 1992 Protocol.
The Protocol of 1992 changed the entry into force requirements by reducing from six to four the number of large tanker-owning countries that were needed for entry into force.
 The compensation limits were set as follows:  
  • For a ship not exceeding 5,000 gross tonnage, liability is limited to  3 million SDR
  • For a ship  5,000 to 140,000 gross tonnage:  liability is limited to 3 million SDR plus 420 SDR  for each additional unit of tonnage
  • For a ship over 140,000 gross tonnage: liability is limited to  59.7 million SDR.
The 1992 protocol also widened the scope of the Convention to cover pollution damage caused in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) or equivalent area of a State Party. The Protocol covers pollution damage as before but environmental damage compensation is limited to costs incurred for reasonable measures to reinstate the contaminated environment. It also allows expenses incurred for preventive measures to be recovered even when no spill of oil occurs, provided there was grave and imminent threat of pollution damage.
The Protocol also extended the Convention to cover spills from sea-going vessels constructed or adapted to carry oil in bulk as cargo so that it applies apply to both laden and unladen tankers, including spills of bunker oil from such ships.
Under the 1992 Protocol, a shipowner cannot limit liability if it is proved that the pollution damage resulted from the shipowner's personal act or omission, committed with the intent to cause such damage, or recklessly and with knowledge that such damage would probably result.
From 16 May 1998, Parties to the 1992 Protocol ceased to be Parties to the 1969 CLC due to a mechanism for compulsory denunciation of the "old" regime established in the 1992 Protocol. However, there are a number of States which are Party to the 1969 CLC and have not yet ratified the 1992 regime - which is intended to eventually replace the 1969 CLC.
The 1992 Protocol allows for States Party to the 1992 Protocol to issue certificates to ships registered in States which are not Party to the 1992 Protocol, so that a shipowner can obtain certificates to both the 1969 and 1992 CLC, even when the ship is registered in a country which has not yet ratified the 1992 Protocol. This is important because a ship which has only a 1969 CLC may find it difficult to trade to a country which has ratified the 1992 Protocol, since it establishes higher limits of liability.
The 2000 Amendments
Adoption: 18 October 2000
Entry into force: 1 November 2003
The amendments raised the compensation limits by 50 percent compared to the limits set in the 1992 Protocol, as follows:  
  • For a ship not exceeding 5,000 gross tonnage, liability is limited to  4.51 million SDR (US$5.78 million)
  • For a ship  5,000 to 140,000 gross tonnage:  liability is limited to 4.51 million SDR  plus 631 SDR  for each additional gross tonne over 5,000
  • For a ship over 140,000 gross tonnage: liability is limited to  89.77 million SDR
Special Drawing Rights
The daily conversion rates for Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) can be found on the International Monetary Fund website at