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What is lightering?

Lightering is the process of removing oil or other hazardous chemicals from a compromised vessel to another vessel to prevent oil from spilling into the surrounding waters.

A lightering barge being positioned next to the freighter

A lightering barge being positioned next to the freighter M/V Montrose in 2007. (image courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)

Lightering is not possible in all oil spill scenarios. It depends on many factors including the type of oil that is spilled. As time passes, the oil can become more viscous, or thicker, and therefore more difficult to pump. This can, in turn, make lightering difficult, if not impossible. While there are benefits to removing oil in this way, there can also be accidents and spills that result from lightering.

Lightering is also used to transfer cargo between vessels of different sizes like a barge and a bulker or oil tanker to reduce the vessel's draft in order to enter port facilities.

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Last updated: 01/20/23
Author: NOAA
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