MARCH 1967 – THE TORREY CANYON HITS THE SEVEN STONES REEF
The SS Torrey Canyon was built by Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in the United States in 1959. When laid down the tanker had a capacity of 60,000 tons. However, the ship was later enlarged in Japan to a LR2 Suezmax class with a capacity of 120,000 tons.
Owned by Barracuda Tanker Corporation, a subsidiary of the Union Oil Company of California, the tanker was chartered by BP.
The Torrey Canyon left the Mina al Ahmadi terminal in Kuwait on 19 February 1967 with 120,000 tons of crude oil on board, heading for Milford Haven in Wales. On 18 March the 300 meters long supertanker ran aground onto Pollard’s Rock on the Seven Stones Reef, near Land’s End and the Isles of Scilly off the western coast of Cornwall. The accident was attributed to the captain’s negligence due to taking a shortcut to save time to get to Milford Haven and keeping the autopilot on.
An eight-mile slick formed by nightfall and reached over 20 miles long the following day. March 26, the ship broke into three parts. Over the course of several days, all of the 120,000 ton crude oil cargo (900,000 barrels) seeped into the Atlantic Ocean. Cornwall beaches were despoiled, and an oil slick crossed the Channel as winds carried it towards France. On 28 March, RAF strike aircrafts dropped 42 1,000 lb bombs on the ship to make the oil blaze. There was cataclysmic local pollution. Damage to beaches and wildlife was devastating. It was the world’s first major tanker disaster in history.
The disaster occurred in the midst of the seabird migration period, causing thousands of birds to be affected by the oil. Rehabilitation efforts only succeeded in saving 1% of the oiled birds. An estimated 25,000 birds died due to oil ingestion, pneumonia, exposure to the harmful cleaning agents used…
The Torrey Canyon disaster was the first to place the dangers of dispersant use in the international spotlight. It brought Europe’s attention to a risk that had thus far been overlooked. To respond to this spill, a large quantity of dispersant was used, without any consideration being paid to its ecological impact. In retrospect, it turned out that the oil/dispersant mixture was more toxic for the environment than the oil alone.
It took 5 to 8 years for the oiled shores to be cleaned naturally, while it took the areas affected by the oil/dispersant mixture 9 to 10 years. A study carried out in 1978 (11 years after the spill) showed that a species of hermit crab has still not reappeared in the area affected by the spill.
The Seven Stones reef is a rocky reef formed by two groups of rocks and is nearly 2 miles long and 1 mile in breadth. They rise out of deep water and are a navigational hazard for shipping with 71 named wrecks and an estimated 200 shipwrecks overall.