SS Torrey Canyon was an LR2 Suezmax class oil tanker with a cargo capacity of 118,285 long tons (120,183 t) of crude oil. She ran aground off the western coast of Cornwall, United Kingdom, on 18 March 1967, causing an environmental disaster. At that time she was the largest vessel ever to be wrecked.

NameSS Torrey Canyon
OwnerBarracuda Tanker Corporation
Port of registry Liberia
BuilderNewport News Shipbuilding
Yard number532
Launched28 October 1958
CompletedJanuary 1959
FateSank after running aground on 18 March 1967
General characteristics
Length974.4 ft (297.0 m)
Beam125.4 ft (38.2 m)
Draught68.7 ft (20.9 m)
PropulsionSingle shaft; steam turbine
Speed17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph)

Design and history Edit

When built by the Newport News Shipbuilding in the United States in 1959, she had a deadweight tonnage capacity of 65,920 long tons (66,980 t). However, the ship was later enlarged by Sasebo Heavy Industries in Japan to 118,285 long tons (120,183 t) capacity.[1]

At the time of the shipwreck she was owned by Barracuda Tanker Corporation, a subsidiary of the Union Oil Company of California, and registered in Liberia[2] but chartered to BP. She was 974.4 feet (297.0 m) long, 125.4 feet (38.2 m) beam and had 68.7 feet (20.9 m) of draught.[citation needed].

Accident and oil spill Edit

On 19 February 1967, Torrey Canyon left the Kuwait National Petroleum Company refinery, at Mina, Kuwait (later Al Ahmadi) on her final voyage with a full cargo of crude oil. The ship reached the Canary Islands on 14 March. From there the planned route was to Milford Haven in Wales.[citation needed]

Torrey Canyon struck Pollard's Rock on Seven Stones reef, between the Cornish mainland and the Isles of Scilly, on 18 March. It became grounded and, several days later, began to break up.

In an effort to reduce the size of the oil spill, the British government decided to set the wreck on fire, by means of air strikes from the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) and Royal Air Force (RAF). On 28 March 1967, FAA Blackburn Buccaneers from RNAS Lossiemouth dropped 1,000-pound bombs on the ship. Afterwards RAF Hawker Hunter from RAF Chivenor dropped cans of jet fuel (kerosene), to fuel the blaze.[3] However, the fire was put out by high tides,[clarification needed] and further strikes were needed to re-ignite the oil, by FAA de Havilland Sea Vixens from RNAS Yeovilton and Buccaneers from the RNAS Brawdy, as well as Hunters of No 1(F) Squadron RAF from RAF West Raynham with napalm. Bombing continued into the next day, until Torrey Canyon finally sank.[4] A total of 161 bombs, 16 rockets, 1,500 long tons (1,500 t) of napalm and 44,500 litres (9,800 imp gal) of kerosene were used.[5]

Attempts to contain the oil using foam-filled containment booms were largely unsuccessful, due to the booms' fragility in high seas.

Guernsey Edit

When the oil reached Guernsey seven days after the grounding, authorities scooped up the oil into sewage tankers and siphoned it off into a disused quarry in the northeast of the island. Some time later, micro-organisms were introduced to see if they could break the oil down into carbon dioxide and water.[6] This was a limited success, so in 2010, a bio-remediation process was initiated to speed up the process.[7]

Aftermath Edit

An inquiry in Liberia, where the ship was registered, found Shipmaster Pastrengo Rugiati was to blame, because he took a shortcut to save time to get to Milford Haven. Additionally a design fault meant that the helmsman was unaware that the steering selector switch had been accidentally left on autopilot and hence was unable to carry out a timely turn to go through the shipping channel.[8]

The wreck lies at a depth of 30 metres (98 ft).[citation needed]

In popular culture Edit

  • Serge Gainsbourg composed and recorded the song "Torrey Canyon" about the incident.[9]
  • The UK series Heartbeat ran an episode in which one of the characters lost his fortune by becoming a "name" (underwriter) for the Torrey Canyon.[10]
  • The podcast Cautionary Tales aired an episode about the Torrey Canyon, and what we can learn from the accident.[11]

References Edit

  1. ^ "Torrey Canyon (5536535)". Miramar Ship Index. Retrieved 15 February 2022.
  2. ^ "The Torrey Canyon's last voyage". Loughborough University. Archived from the original on 5 July 2009. Retrieved 13 November 2013.
  3. ^ Mounter, Julian (29 March 1967). "Night Strafe on Blazing Tanker Tide puts out fire". The Times. No. 56901. p. 1.
  4. ^ "On This Day 29 March 1967: Bombs rain down on Torrey Canyon". BBC News. 2008. Retrieved 13 November 2013.
  5. ^ Look & Learn, no.858, 24 June 1978, p. 2
  6. ^ Bell, Bethan; Cacciottolo, Mario (17 March 2017). "Torrey Canyon oil spill: The day the sea turned black". BBC News. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  7. ^ "Torrey Canyon oil in Guernsey quarry 'nearly' removed". BBC News. 17 November 2010. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
  8. ^ Rothbloom, A. Human Error and Marine Safety (PDF).
  9. ^ Simmons, Sylvie (2 February 2001). "The eyes have it". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 13 November 2013.
  10. ^ The Holiday's Over, retrieved 3 February 2020
  11. ^ Cautionary Tales Ep 1 – DANGER: Rocks Ahead!, 15 November 2019, retrieved 12 July 2020

50°02′30″N 6°07′44″W / 50.0417°N 6.1288°W / 50.0417; -6.1288