This study gives a global overview of accidental oil spills from all sources (> or =700t) for the period 1970-2004, followed by a detailed examination of trends in accidental tanker spills. The present analysis of the number and volume of tanker spills includes temporal and spatial spill trends, aspects of spill size distribution as well as trends of key factors (i.e., flag state, hull type, tanker age, accident cause and sensitivity of location). Results show that the total number and volume of tanker spills have significantly decreased since the 1970s, which is in contrast to increases in maritime transport of oil and to popular perceptions following recent catastrophic events. However, many spills still occur in ecologically sensitive locations because the major maritime transport routes often cross the boundaries of the Large Marine Ecosystems, but the substantially lower total spill volume is an important contribution to potentially reduce overall ecosystem impacts. In summary, the improvements achieved in the past decades have been the result of a set of initiatives and regulations implemented by governments, international organizations and the shipping industry.