farhad emam Farhad Emam
Publish Date : 12/07/2015

Legal Regime of Oil Spill under the Law of Iran


Key terms

Oil spill, civil liability, criminal responsibility, environment protection, international liability.


Oil spill incidents have occurred both in the Persian Gulf, especially during Gulf Wars, and in the Caspian Sea. The latest oil spill is reported on the website of nytimes.com on December 7, 2015:

A fire on an oil platform in the Caspian Sea burned on Monday for a fourth day, and the Azerbaijani company that operates the site warned that the fire could spread to the oil wells that feed the platform, heightening the risk of a spill.

Workers were evacuated on Friday, but one of two lifeboats capsized in rough seas, leaving 29 people missing and presumed dead.

The mechanism to prevent oil spill, and in case of oil spill, to determine the civil liabilities and criminal responsibilities of those involved in it, is the subject of our study in this report that briefly covers the following issues:

a) Legal basis of civil liability and criminal responsibility; and

b) Application of Law.

It is evident that this Legal Report is just an introduction to a detailed study of the subject that is included in our Law in Iran Booklet titled “Petroleum Law and Environment Protection”. 

I. Legal basis

A. International liability regime

The following international documents are applicable under the Iranian law:

1. The International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage (1969)

Iran adhered to this convention in 2001. Paragraph (6) of Article I of this convention enunciates that:

6. "Pollution damage" means loss or damage caused outside the ship carrying oil by contamination resulting from the escape or discharge of oil from the ship, wherever such escape or discharge may occur, and includes the costs of preventive measures and further loss or damage caused by preventive measures.

2. The International Convention on the Establishment of an International Fund for Compensation for Oil Pollution Damage (1992)

Iran is a State Party to this convention. Under Article 2(1) of the convention:

“The International Oil Pollution Compensation Fund 1992” and hereinafter referred to as “the Fund”, is hereby established with the following aims:

(a) to provide compensation for pollution damage to the extent that the protection afforded by the 1992 Liability Convention is inadequate;

(b) to give effect to the related purposes set out in this Convention.”

3. The International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage (2001)

Iran became a State Party to this convention in 2010. Under Article 3(1) of the convention:

“Except as provided in paragraphs 3 and 4, the shipowner at the time of an incident shall be liable for pollution damage caused by any bunker oil on board or originating from the ship, provided that, if an incident consists of a series of occurrences having the same origin, the liability shall attach to the shipowner at the time of the first of such occurrences.”

4. The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships 1973 as modified by the 1978 Protocol ("MARPOL")

Under Article 4(1) of the above convention, “the ship” is responsible for violation of the Convention’s provisions:

“(1) Any violation of the requirements of the present Convention shall be prohibited and sanctions shall be established therefor under the law of the Administration of the ship concerned wherever the violation occurs. If the Administration is informed of such a violation and is satisfied that sufficient evidence is available to enable proceedings to be brought in respect of the alleged violation, it shall cause such proceedings to be taken as soon as possible, in accordance with its law.”

5. Convention on Limitation of Liability for Maritime Claims (1976)

Iran became a State Party to this Convention in 2014. Under Article 3(b) of the convention:

“The rules of this Convention shall not apply to:

(b) claims for oil pollution damage within the meaning of the International Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Damage, dated 29 November 1969 or of any amendment or Protocol thereto which is in force…”

6. International Convention on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Co-operation (1990)

Iran became a State Party to this convention in 1997. According to Article 2(b) of the convention:

"Oil pollution incident" means an occurrence or series of occurrences having the same origin, which results or may result in a discharge of oil and which poses or may pose a threat to the marine environment, or to the coastline or related interests of one or more States, and which requires emergency action or other immediate response.”

7. Kuwait Regional Convention for Cooperation on the Protection of the Marine Environment from Pollution (1978)

Iran has signed and ratified this convention and its three protocols. Article III(a) of this convention states that:

The Contracting States shall, individually and/or jointly, take all appropriate measures in accordance with the present Convention and those protocols in force to which they are party to prevent, abate and combat pollution of the marine environment in the Sea Area.

8. Protocol Concerning Regional Co-operation in Combating Pollution by Oil and Other Harmful Substances in Cases of Emergency (1978)

Iran adopted this protocol as a result of its participation in the Regional Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment and the Coastal Areas of Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates that was convened in Kuwait from 15-23 April 1978. Article II(1) of this convention determines the main obligation of its member countries:

1. The Contracting States shall co-operate in taking the necessary and effective measures to protect the coastline and related interests of one or more of the States from the threat and effects of pollution due to the presence of oil or other harmful substances in the marine environment resulting from marine emergencies.

9. Protocol concerning Marine Pollution resulting from Exploration and Exploitation of the Continental Shelf (1989)

The Parliament of Iran ratified this convention in 1991. Article II of the protocol reads as follows:

Contracting States shall require that all appropriate measures are taken to prevent, abate and control marine pollution from offshore operations in those parts of the Protocol Area within their respective jurisdictions taking into account the best available and economically feasible technology. Contracting States acting individually or jointly shall also take all appropriate steps to combat marine pollution from offshore operations within the parts of the Protocol Area under their jurisdiction.  

Such obligations shall be without prejudice to the more specific obligations accepted under this Protocol.

B. Domestic liability and responsibility regime

1. Under Articles 6(b) and 9 of the Environment Protection and Improvement Act, all the measures should be taken to protect the environment against pollution.

2. Under Article 1 of the Civil Liability Act (1960), if a person intentionally or due to his negligence, harms the property or any other right established for the others by virtue of law, as a result of which another one sustains material losses, the first person shall be liable to compensate the damages arising out of his or its action.

3. Three Articles of the Act on Protection of Seas and Navigable Rivers against Pollution by Oil (2010), namely Articles 2, 9 and 17, set out the rules concerning oil spills and their legal consequences:

Article 2. The waters that are subject to the provisions of this Act are:

Maritime areas that are subject to the Act on Maritime Zones of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Persian Gulf and Oman Sea (1993) and the waters under sovereignty of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Persian Gulf as well as navigable rivers.

Article 9. Pollution of the waters that are subject to this Act by oil is forbidden and those who commit this act intentionally shall be imprisoned from six months to two years or shall pay a fine amounting from Rials twenty million (20,000,000) to five billion (5,000,000,000) or shall be subject to both of the above punishments; and if the act is unintentional, then the fine to be paid shall amount from Rials ten million (10,000,000) to one billion (1,000,000,000).

Article 17. Owners, operators and those who are responsible for the pollution defined by this Act shall be jointly and severally responsible to redeem all the damages caused by the pollution and for all the charges of limiting the impacts of pollution and its removal, as well as for environmental assessment and evaluations including the charges of the materials and the equipment used and the service fee paid to the individuals involved in this operation.”

II. Application of law

Under the Iranian civil liability law, the essential elements of the liability resulting from oil spills are: a) occurrence of an incident; b) damages sustained by the environment; and c) fault. The decisions issued by the Iranian courts put emphasis on the last element, i.e. fault. Two recent examples of the jurisprudence are the decisions issued in Case No. 104 in 2005 by the Criminal Court of Hamadan and the decision issued in case No. 84 in 2006 by the Criminal Court of Semnan.

Detailed analysis of the tort law and the penal law of Iran, as far as oil spills are concerned, will be included in our Law in Iran Booklet on Petroleum Law and Environment Protection. 



To learn more about the issues mentioned in this Legal Report, you may read the following texts. If after reading this Legal Report and the following texts, you still have questions that call for detailed responses, you may send them to us by clicking on “Our Services” button and following the procedure explained there.


1. Law in Iran Legal News: Persian Gulf Oil Spill of 1991, Monday, December 7, 2015.

2. Law in Iran Legal News: Persian Gulf Oil Spill of 1983, Monday, December 7, 2015.

3. Law in Iran Legal News: Iran Ready for Combating Oil Pollution, Monday, December 7, 2015.

4. Law in Iran Legal News: Caspian Sea Oil Rig Continues to Burn, Heightening Risk of Spill, Monday, December 7, 2015.




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