Oil spills present a chronic threat to the environmental security of most major ports. While mitigation of the risk of oil spills should include prevention, major oil spills remain periodic occurrences. Consequently, spill preparedness and response are critical aspects of minimizing the damage caused by spills. Nonetheless, any major spill response engages multiple stakeholder and public groups that may have different objectives. Currently, spill managers must balance conflicts in the midst of a crisis using ad hoc or heuristic approaches that may be difficult to justify or communicate. Public expectations are particularly challenging to manage. In some cases, the spill response may be perceived as a failure despite the response agency's best efforts. A systematic approach to stating varied spill objectives and tracking progress may result in better management and communication and improve the credibility of spill managers. This research studies two separate spill incidents to reveal the different types of objectives held by engaged personnel and the ways that they assess the progress of the response. A total of 30 interviews are conducted and interpreted using a grounded theory approach to reveal salient objectives. Where possible, metrics relating to these objectives are elicited and the results for each spill compared. Although the quality of the study metrics is not examined in detail, we find that some spill objectives are more readily stated in terms of performance metrics than others, suggesting that spill managers may benefit from greater guidance on how to gauge progress or set goals in areas such as protection of public health and safety or mitigation of sociopolitical or economic impacts.