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Remembering the Torrey Canyon

segunda-feira, 18 de março de 2024

On 18 March 1967, the Torrey Canyon cargo ship was travelling from Kuwait to Milford Haven, Pembrokeshire, when it ran aground on rocks off the coast of Cornwall, spilling over 100,000 tonnes of crude oil into the English Channel.

Nearby beaches were covered in sludge, and thousands of seabirds were killed in one of the worst environmental accidents in the UK. This incident significantly impacted many of the surrounding areas, including Cornwall in the UK, the Channel Islands, and Brittany in France, affecting wildlife, shorelines, local economies, and people.

This was a landmark case for the industry learnings on the use of early dispersants and detergents. The early dispersants used for this spill were more toxic than the ones we use now, and their application was in much greater concentrations. Both of these led to significant environmental damage, which could have been avoided if the methodologies that we use today had been applied.


The frameworks, systems, and counter-pollution technologies that we have in place today to prevent incidents such as these from occurring simply did not exist.

A flooded quarry in Guernsey, a Channel Island, was used to dispose of oiled waste that washed up on its shores. Over time oil remobilises from the sediments, which has allowed us to work with local authorities and use the site to train and practice response techniques.

Guernsey Quarry with oil from torrey canyon.jpg

The quarry located in Guernsey (pictured in 2010) | Image Source: BBC News 

When we consider the impacts of oil spills, we focus on the scenario that caused the incident in the first place, the environmental consequences, the clean-up efforts, and the economic impacts on jobs and tourism.

In 2017, we facilitated the ITAC event, held in Plymouth Marine Laboratory, UK, where we were extremely fortunate to hear from Dr Tim Cooper. Tim is a social historian who studied the impacts of the Torrey Canyon disaster through interviews with people who had lived through the aftermath. It was an incredibly insightful and powerful presentation.

Tim explained how the incident and subsequent response had made the people feel. The incident changed the relationship between the population and how they viewed “the authorities”.

Over the last 50+ years, following this incident and other similar ones, there has been a considerable reduction in the frequency of marine oil spills globally, as well as enormous technological advances.

We continue to learn from spills like this, with the Torrey Canyon becoming the catalyst for the creation of international frameworks, innovation and technology improvements in response strategies, and response capability building around the world.