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Torrey Canyon

Related subjects: Air & Sea transport

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Name: Torrey Canyon
Owner: Barracuda Tanker Corporation
Operator: British Petroleum
Port of registry:  Liberia
Laid down: 1959
Fate: Sank after running aground, 18 March 1967
General characteristics
Type: Supertanker
Length: 974.4 ft (297.0 m)
Beam: 125.4 ft (38.2 m)
Draught: 68.7 ft (20.9 m)
Capacity: 120,000 tons crude oil

The Torrey Canyon was a supertanker capable of carrying a cargo of 120,000 tons of crude oil, which was shipwrecked off the western coast of Cornwall, England in March 1967, causing an environmental disaster. At that time, the tanker was the largest vessel ever to be wrecked.

Design and history

When laid down in the United States in 1959, it had a capacity of 60,000 tons but the ship was enlarged in Japan to 120,000 tons capacity. At the time of the accident, it was registered in Liberia and owned by Barracuda Tanker Corporation, a subsidiary of Union Oil Company of California but chartered to British Petroleum. It was 974.4 feet (297.0 m) long, 125.4 feet (38.2 m) beam and 68.7 feet (20.9 m) draught.

Accident and oil spill

The ship left the Kuwait National Petroleum Company refinery at Mina al-Ahmadi on its final voyage on 19 February 1967 with full cargo of crude oil, reaching the Canary Islands by 14 March. From there the planned route was to Milford Haven.

On 18 March 1967, owing to a navigational error, the Torrey Canyon struck Pollard's Rock on Seven Stones reef between the Cornish mainland and the Scilly Isles. An inquiry in Liberia, where the ship was registered, found Shipmaster Pastrengo Rugiati was to blame, because he took a shortcut to save time in getting to Milford Haven.

On 28 March 1967, the Fleet Air Arm sent Blackburn Buccaneer planes from RNAS Lossiemouth to drop forty-two 1,000 lb bombs on the ship. Then, the Royal Air Force sent Hawker Hunter jets from RAF Chivenor to drop cans of aviation fuel to make the oil blaze. However, exceptionally high tides put the fire out and it took further attacks by Sea Vixens from the RNAS Yeovilton and Buccaneers from the Naval Air Station at Brawdy, as well as more RAF Hunters with liquified petroleum jelly (not napalm, as HMG denied that the UK forces had stocks of napalm), to ignite the oil. Attempts to use foam booms to contain the oil were of limited success due to their fragility in high seas. Bombing continued into the next day before the Torrey Canyon finally sank.

The wreck now lies at a depth of 30 metres (98 ft).

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