Oil Tankers: Fueling Countries for Centuries

The oil tanker is so much more than just a giant floating barrel of oil. The uses for tankers old and new are innovative and will absolutely amaze you!

The History Behind Oil Tankers

Eniday identifies that ships have been used since at least the 16th century to transport all manner of goods. Tales of pirates attacking ships and stealing either the ship, its cargo or both are very familiar to everyone.

Since then, we have built bigger, sturdier and better ships with different purposes and designs to more efficiently move cargo.

The first oil tanker as we know it was constructed in the United Kingdom in 1886. This ship allowed for oil to be pumped into the hull without the need for barrels. During the World War I era, the United States built 316 oil tankers to keep up with the demand for oil. World War II saw similar increases in demand.

The Exxon Valdez Spill

Perhaps the most famous incident in history involving an oil tanker was in 1989 when the tanker named the Exxon Valdez crashed into the Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound in Alaska. The Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the water which resulted in the killing of hundreds of thousands of animals in the area.

The disaster gained international attention and ultimately cost the Exxon corporation 3.8 billion dollars for both clean-up and restoration costs for the habitat. Captain Joseph Hazelwood avoided felony charges in the matter but received a community service work requirement and a $50,000 fine. 

Massive Modern Tankers

The bigger the tanker, the more oil it can carry. The more oil it can carry, the lower the cost of shipment. This is highly important to keep the cost of fuel down for consumers. This major demand has sparked some huge innovation in the design and construction of oil tankers. Eniday says that today’s ultra-large crude carriers (ULCCs) can be 1,300 feet long! Imagine laying the Empire State Building down on the ground, and that would be roughly the length of these tankers. According to Clearseas.org, 60% of all oil transported around the world travels by oil tankers. 


Something as massive as an oil tanker has to have some cool features. Just as cool is what has been done with some of the old tankers that are no longer in use. In Antigua, this YouTube video shows how a decommissioned oil tanker has been turned into a floating water park.

Other ideas, like The Black Gold Project in the Persian Gulf countries, seek to use these decommissioned tankers for land use. They could be hotels, shopping centers, airports, apartments and more. The intrigue that comes from repurposing these ships for this purpose seems to be enough to “fuel” a whole new pseudo-real estate empire.  

Environmentally-Friendly Oil Tankers

You read that right—oil tankers are becoming far more environmentally responsible! While it would seem that a vehicle carrying fossil fuel would be one of the least eco-conscious vehicles on the planet, that is becoming very inaccurate. Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) powered tankers are being commissioned for their ability to nearly eliminate the release of sulfur oxide and nitrogen oxide, as well as reducing the release of carbon dioxide by approximately 40%.

But more than just the use of LNG vessels, tankers like Deliverance have been designed to use solar and wind power to handle half of the ships power needs. The other half would come from liquefied natural gas. All of this actually costs less to manufacture and saves oil companies a tremendous amount of money. Beyond the cost savings, the environmental impact will be substantial—in a great way!