On 22 June 1994, oiled penguins were reported coming ashore at Dassen Island, the largest breeding colony for the species. There had been no reports of ships in distress in the area so initial speculation was that the Castillo del Bellver, a Spanish ship that sank in the area in 1983 might be the source.
It was later learned that the Apollo Sea, a Chinese ore carrier had gone down on 20 June, after sending only two messages. All 36 crew members were lost. 2,400 tones of fuel leaked from the ship which was in 180 meter deep waters, precluding any refloating or salvage efforts.
60% of the penguin deaths occurred during transport and stabilisation procedures. A workshop was organised to discuss ways to better care for oiled penguins.
The resulting improvements to those procedures resulted in a 97% survival rate after a mystery spill in Cape Town harbour in 1998 oiled 563 penguins, three of them banded birds from the Apollo Sea spill.
In 2000, the M/V Treasure oil spill in the same area affected 20,000 penguins, of which 95% survived to be released.
10,000 oiled penguins were transported from Dassen and Robben Islands to the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds for cleaning and rehabilitation. This was the first time a response this massive was undertaken.
5213 birds were released, of those 4076 were fitted with flipper bands. 2047 were resighted at breeding colonies a year later. Five years later 73% of the flipper banded birds were still being sighted.