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Oil Spills


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Oil Spills

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We will start with the wreck of the Torrey Canyon which was the first of the so-called "super-tankers" to be wrecked, and its implications. The responses and issues.

We will list the major oil spills, when and where they occurred, which corporations were involved. Many will be surprised at the large number of major spills there have been and how much damage has already been done.

We will indicate some of the DEAD ZONES in the ocean of which we are aware.

The Torrey Canyon was originally built in the United States in 1959 with a capacity of 60,000 tons. The ship was later taken to Japan where it was enlarged to double its original capacity, that is to 120,000 tons. The ship design meant that it was probably manageable in the open ocean however to turn just 20 degrees it took 500 meters, and from cruising speed it took 5 miles (8k) to stop. Therefore in coastal waters and harbors it was difficult to control.

At the time of the disaster it was registered in Liberia and was owned by the interestingly named Barracuda Tanker Corporation. Barracuda was a subsidiary of the Union Oil Company of California who had chartered it to BP (British Petroleum) which you might have heard of recently. It had an Italian Crew, and Its final voyage started at a Kuwait Refinery on February 19th 1967. The ship was fully laden with 120,000 tons of crude oil on board, and  Its destination was Milford Haven, Wales, in the UK.

The captain was under pressure to deliver on time, he took a short cut, and the ship was not maneuverable. The ship strikes Pollards Rock in the Seven Stones Reef. six of its tanks are ripped open. Attempts made to re-float the ship were without success and resulted in the death of a member of the salvage team. The ship began to break up.

The British government was so concerned with the potential damage of the oil it sent Royal Navy Bombers to drop 42 one thousand pound bombs on the ship, followed by waves of RAF bombers to drop fuel and napalm to burn the oil without success. Both navy and air force were ridiculed because 25% of their bombs missed the 300 meter long ship.

Attempts were made to disperse the oil with detergents, The detergents which were products of BP were themselves highly toxic. It was said by the government that a potential "bomb" was being created. Eventually after what might be termed a Keystone Cops operation the Torrey Canyon wreck sank to 30 meters where is lies to this day.

120  miles of the Cornish coast was contaminated, it was estimated that 15,000 birds were killed seals and marine life were decimated. The UK was lucky because of unusual winds patterns they only got an estimated 15% of the spill on their coastline, most went into the ocean and some went towards the French coast. On the island of Guernsey they tried to clean their beaches, the oil was so thick there that 3,000 tons was pumped into tankers and more was pumped into an old quarry. In 1980 they to pumped the quarry clear However as water levels rise it has brought up the oil again from the earth and a further 160,000 litres was taken to a processing plant in 2009. In May 2010 in Guernsey they started to pump in micro-organisms into the contaminated water. It is hoped  that these bacteria will eat the oil that still remains in this area.

As the eminent Guardian Newspaper journalist Patrick Barkham has written "But the Torrey Canyon disaster is not just a history lesson; it is living proof that big oil spills plague ecosystems for decades."  43 years later the contamination is still killing the wildlife and destroying the environment. Those who are in the Gulf of Mexico need to be aware of this when they consider their future. (for more details) http://guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/jun/24/torrey-canyon-oil)


The UK and the French governments both sought compensation from the ship owners. They found it difficult to serve any writs on the ship owners. Four months after the spill they found a sister ship of the Torrey Canyon, the Lake Palourde, A young Singaporean lawyer, went on board the ship, was mistaken for a whiskey salesman. He took advantage of the situation, arrested the ship and nailed the writ to the mast.

Those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat the same mistakes.

Don't be fooled, look at the way in which the oil companies seek to cloud the information by the way in which they report the amounts of oil. Click on the Oil Measures link below.

When you want to know how many spills there have been follow the link below you may get quite a shock.

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Last modified: 03/22/13