Clean an oil spill at sea and get oil spill treatments approved

Information on cleaning an oil spill including your options, how to get a product approved and how long it will take.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) are again able to facilitate the commissioning of toxicity testing assessments in support of applications for oil spill treatment product approval under the UK national scheme. The refurbishment and reconfiguration of the Cefas laboratory facilities in Lowestoft, are now complete. To ensure compliance with the Governments COVID-19 guidance, toxicity testing in support of new product applications may take longer than usual

Administration of the UK scheme, including approval renewals for existing products, and maintenance of the UK approved list of products will continue as normal during this time. As is already the case any applicants wishing to get their products assessed to UK standards during this period can still do so if they are able to appoint a third-party testing provider to undertake the assessment to the existing protocols.

The facilities requirement and technical capability to conduct both the Sea and Rocky Shore Tests is clearly set out in the protocol - Procedures for the Approval of Oil Spill Treatment Products, Fisheries Technical Report No. 102.

Some high-level issues to consider when seeking/appointing a testing provider:

  • The test equipment needs to be of the standard dimensions and specifications as set out in the protocol.
  • The test oil should be readily dispersible and of similar characteristics to the Kuwait crude set out in the protocol. The test oil must provide shrimp mortality of between 10-80% in the Sea test ‘oil only’ exposure.
  • A supply of brown shrimp (Crangon crangon) must be available from an unpolluted source and the test lab should have holding facilities to ensure good animal welfare.
  • The testing facility must be able to maintain test room temperatures at 15 ◦C (± 1◦C) for the duration of the test exposures and to have a good supply of clean flowing seawater that can also be maintained at this temperature.
  • The test facility must have appropriate waste management procedures and/or discharge consents in place to handle the waste oil and hydrocarbon contaminated water from the tests.
  • All test validity criteria, as set out in the protocol, must be met.
  • The Sea and Rocky Shore tests are not internationally accepted standard methods and the UK scheme does not stipulate that the test laboratories generating results need to have any specific quality certifications/accreditations (e.g. GLP). However, these are relatively complex tests and it is recommended that any laboratory has a good track record in the conduct of statutory or regulatory testing.

The MMO and Cefas will continue to provide advice and guidance during this period and it is recommended that they are consulted regarding test laboratory suitability for undertaking the testing before work is commissioned.

Oil spills at sea

You have 2 main options when dealing with an oil spill at sea.

Do nothing

You can let natural processes disperse, evaporate and degrade the spill for you – this is probably the best option when:

  • the quantities of oil are small
  • the oil is a type that tends to disperse or evaporate readily without intervention
  • no marine resources are threatened by the spill

Use an oil spill treatment product

You can intervene if an oil spill represents a safety risk, or poses a significant threat to commercial, environmental or amenity interests. You must consider the effects of any intervention. Some techniques are poorly-suited to marine conditions around the coast of UK. Unless the oil can be physically recovered, the choice is often between leaving the oil alone or using an oil spill treatment product.

Request approval to use an oil spill treatment product

You need approval from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) before you use a product to treat oil.

MMO will respond within 1 hour approving or rejecting your request to use an approved product in English or Welsh waters.

The product must be approved by MMO and be used in line with the conditions of its approval.

Read MMO’s Approval to use oil spill treatment products flowchart (PDF, 357 KB, 7 pages).

Report a marine pollution incident

In a marine pollution incident MMO consults several organisations to ensure that specific scientific, environmental and fisheries advice is taken into account for every decision.

To report a marine pollution incident call:

  • 0300 200 2024 within office hours
  • 07770 977 825 outside office hours
  • 0345 051 8486 or 0845 051 8486 at all times if other numbers out of order

You can use approved oil spill treatment products where there is a genuine risk to human life or to the safety of an installation or vessel without consulting with MMO.

MMO and the relevant statutory nature conservation agencies – Natural England, Natural Resources Wales, Scottish Natural Heritage, and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee – should be informed after the incident.

MMO approves use in English and Welsh waters. Marine Scotland and Northern Ireland Environment Agency approve use in their waters.

MMO acts on behalf of the UK for testing and approving oil treatment products intended for use in UK waters.

Standing approvals

A standing approval is an agreement between MMO and a port or harbour authority, that specific oil spill treatment products may be used under certain conditions and in specific areas, without approval. This means a faster response to oil spills. Standing approvals may also be given to operators of oil and gas installations in coastal waters, or fixed locations such as terminals.

Port or harbour authorities must report to MMO that they have used a standing approval at the earliest possible opportunity.

Standing approvals for England and Wales exist at the locations below. You can view the extent of each standing approval on the Coastal and Marine Resource Atlas interactive map, by selecting the standing approvals layer on the list of layers.

  • Bristol Port
  • BP Hamble, Southampton
  • Fawley Oil Refinery, Southampton
  • Felixstowe Port
  • Fishguard Harbour, Goodwick (Stenaline)
  • Fleetwood Enclosed Docks
  • Harwich Haven Authority
  • Humber Associated British Port
  • Tetney Monobuoy at the Humber
  • Immingham Associated Petroleum Terminal
  • Ipswich Associated British Port
  • Lowestoft Associated British Port
  • Ramsgate Port
  • Sheerness/Chatham Port
  • Teddington Sea Reach Buoy 1
  • Workington Prince of Wales Dock

Standing approvals are issued by MMO and you must contact MMO as soon as possible during an incident, and report back to them on the extent and success of product use once it is over. A typical report will include the following information:

  • name of organisation
  • incident number
  • date
  • nature of spill
  • location
  • remedial action taken
  • product used (including volume)
  • date of manufacture of the product used
  • when the product’s ability to produce the intended result (efficacy) was last tested (if applicable)
  • comments on efficacy relating to incident
  • other comments
  • date of report
  • time of report
  • name of person making report

Standing approvals are for 5 years. You must submit another application before the expiry date.

Get an oil spill treatment approved

You must apply to MMO) if you want to market a new or rebranded oil spill treatment product for use in UK waters.

All products not previously approved will need to be tested for toxicity. Dispersants, bioremediation products and some other types of oil spill treatment product will also have to be tested for their efficacy.

Your approval must be renewed after 5 years, or sooner if specified, and you must notify MMO of any change in the company’s name, address or the product’s composition.

Send your completed application form and payment to MMO. You will need to provide evidence to support your application.

Renewing or rebranding an existing approved product will normally be considered on the basis that the product’s composition is not significantly changed.

What you need to include in your application

Test results

If you have tested the product in a laboratory not commissioned by MMO, include the test results when you send your applications form. MMO will make sure the test data conforms to standard protocols – there will be a fee for this.

If you are using a laboratory commissioned by MMO, send a sample of the product separately from your application form to the laboratory – there will be a testing fee.

The size of the sample will depend on the types of tests required. Full details are given on the application form or can be requested from MMO.


The proposed product label must be approved by MMO and must contain:

  • product name
  • name, address and daytime or out of office hours telephone number of manufacturer, importer or rebrander
  • list of ingredients
  • oil spill treatment product type – dispersant type, sorbent, bioremediant or other
  • a warning against mixing the product with any other products
  • date of manufacture, batch number and expiry date (subject to extension)
  • recommended storage instructions
  • risk symbol and description
  • instructions on use including a statement that the product should not be used in sea depths of fewer than 20 metres or within 1 nautical mile of such depths
  • basic safety instructions or caution and any suitable chemical hazard signs

The label should also meet the requirements of the Classification, Labelling, and Packaging (CLP) Regulations


MMO will:

  • consider the application
  • examine the proposed labelling
  • carry out toxicity and Efficacy testing as appropriate

The product may be marketed for use in English and Welsh waters as soon as MMO issues the formal approval notice. Details of the product and the name and address of the approval holder will be registered and this information will be made publicly available on the approved oil spill treatment products list.

The product should not be used in Scottish or Northern Irish waters until Marine Scotland or the Northern Ireland Environment Agency confirm the approval.

Further information

How to use oil spill treatment products and equipment

Approved oil spill treatment products

Get an oil spill treatment product approved: fees

Get an oil spill treatment product approved: application form

Marine Pollution Contingency Plan

Contact information

Marine Conservation and Enforcement Team

0300 123 1032

Published 11 June 2014
Last updated 5 July 2023 + show all updates
  1. Standing approval location added.

  2. change to CTA

  3. Text added

  4. New form added

  5. 0870 758 1050 telephone number removed

  6. Oil spill treatment products approval flowchart updated

  7. Telephone number changed

  8. First published.