Precis File
SHIP NAME:Torrey CanyonKEY:NUM. ENTRIES:12
sourceOSCH
typeC
volume857600B,872300B
materialKuwait export crude
dead
link

On the morning of March 18, 1967, the T/V Torrey Canyon ran aground on Pollard Rock on Seven Stones Reef off Lands End in England due to the master's negligence. The entire cargo, approximately 860,000 barrels (references range between 857,600 and 872,300 barrels), was released into the sea or burned during the next twelve days. Ships of the Royal Navy carrying detergents were en route to the scene within four hours of the grounding. The response command post was established at Plymouth. The Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy implemented an early warning system for oil movement. A panel of expert scientists was assembled to consider scientific problems involved with the cleanup procedure. Local authorities were instrumental in dealing with the oil beached within their jurisdictions. A detergent, primarily BP1002, was sprayed on much of the floating oil to emulsify and disperse it. Manual methods were used for removal of oil on many of the sandy beaches, although the dissected nature of the shoreline made it impossible to clean the whole coastline. The vessel lost structural integrity on March 26, releasing more oil into the water. Since towing the vessel off of the reef was deemed impossible, the government decided to bomb the vessel.

Kuwait Export crude oil has an API gravity of 31.4, and a pour point of 0 degrees F. The spilled oil formed three distinct slicks. The first slick, composed of approximately 219,900 barrels, drifted up the English Channel, oiling the north coasts of France and Guernsey. The following week, about 146,600 more barrels escaped the vessel. Approximately 102,620 barrels of this second pulse stranded on 200 miles of the coast of West Cornwall. One hundred miles of coastline between Perranporth and The Lizard, at the southern tip of Cornwall, were affected. The third slick, estimated at 366,500 barrels, formed on March 26 when the vessel broke up. This slick drifted south into the Bay of Biscay and remained at sea for two months, during which time as much as 50 percent of the lighter fractions of the oil evaporated. The west coast of Brittany was only lightly oiled. The formation of water-in-oil emulsions, containing up to 80 percent water, greatly increased the volume of material and its resistance to dispersants. Approximately half of the cargo did not reach the shore because it weathered, evaporated, or was dispersed by natural mechanisms. For several months following the dispersant application, many shorelines were recoated with oil-dispersant mixtures.

Over 10,000 tons of detergents, primarily BP1002, which contained 12 percent nonionic surfactant and 3 percent stabilizer, were sprayed on the floating oil to emulsify and disperse it. Forty-two vessels were chartered for the spraying operation. Concentrations of 10 parts per million or less of these detergents were acutely toxic to many marine mammals and plants. Many limpets on intertidal rocks in the spray area were killed. A prodigious growth of green weed occurred due to enhanced nutrients from the dispersants. Detergents were not used on the 40-mile long coastal section between Trebeurden and Ile de Brehat so that inshore shellfish would not be contaminated with toxic components of detergents. Manual removal methods, including the use of straw and gorse to soak up oil, were used on many of the sandy beaches on the north coast of Brittany. Cleanup operations included pumping and bailing of oil as well as bulldozing of oiled sand on the beaches. Over 1,400 personnel from the British armed services assisted with beach cleanup. Approximately 4,000 tons of oil and oil emulsions were removed from the foreshores of Guernsey and 4,200 tons were removed from French beaches. The French treated floating oil with approximately 3,000 tons of natural chalk containing stearic acid which made the chalk oleophilic. It was believed that this chalk caused the oil to sink or disperse. The high density of the floating oil, the length of time the oil had been at sea, and relatively calm seas contributed to the apparent success of this method. After considering the options of towing the vessel or attempting to pump oil off the vessel while it was still on the reef, government authorities decided to bomb the vessel to burn the remaining oil. The vessel was bombed by the Royal Navy on March 28-30 during periods of low water when the vessel was in clear view. A Navy helicopter dropped napalm, sodium chlorate, and aviation fuel to fuel the fire.

This incident prompted the English Government to take the initiative in organizing an early meeting of the Intergovernmental Maritime Consultative Organization to consider needed changes in international maritime law and practice. Relevant maritime laws were considered to be overly complex and out of date in many respects. An estimated 25,000 birds died as a result of the Torrey Canyon spill because the incident coincided with their northerly migration. The coasts of southern England and Brittany are nesting beaches for a variety of seabirds such as guillemots, razorbills, shags, puffins, and Great Northern divers. Thousands of oiled birds were picked up from the beaches for treatment, but the survival rate was only around one percent due to ingestion of oil, pneumonia, and improper handling and cleaning. The Torrey Canyon incident was the first incident to draw universal attention to the dangers of dispersants. Extremely large quantities of dispersants were used during the response, clearly for aesthetic and not ecological purposes. Contamination by oil without dispersants resulted in less adverse biological effect than where dispersants were used. Many herbivores, mainly limpets, and some barnacles were killed due to the toxicity of the dispersant. Widespread mortalities on the West Cornish coast set the stage for a large-scale experiment on the development of a mature community, normally found on rocky shores, and the influence of herbivores and predators on the ecosystem. However, the resultant statistical comparisons may be somewhat inaccurate due to the small amount of pre-spill data, the lack of control sites where the oil was left totally untreated, and uncertainties of how much dispersant reached marginal areas. Early estimates indicated rapid recovery of species along the beach, while long term studies revealed extremely slow recovery. Wave-beaten rocky areas that received only light oiling took approximately 5-8 years to return to normal while areas receiving heavy and repeated dispersant applications took 9-10 years to recover. A 1978 study showed that a rare hermit crab species had not re-appeared in the spill area. References 1991 World Almanac 8/9/91 and 8/28/91 Letters from Daniel Owen at ITOPF Hooke, N. Modern Shipping Disasters 1963-1987. Lloyds of London Press. 1987. National Research Council. Using Oil Spill Dispersants on the Sea. National Academy Press, Washington, D.C. 1989. pp.318-319. Oil on the Sea, David P. Hoult, 1969 Potter, J. Disaster by Oil. Oil Spills: Why They Happen, What They Do, How We Can End Them. Macmillan Co., New York. 1973. Review of Oil Spill Occurrences and Impacts, Exxon Production Research Company, 1989. Tanker Advisory Center, Inc. 1991 Guide for the Selection of Tankers. T.A.C. Inc. 1991. The SocioEconomic Impacts of Oil Spills, Final Report, WAPORA, March 1984. The Torrey Canyon, Her Majesty's Stationary Office, April 1967 Wilson, M.P. Jr., et al., "The Spreading, Retention and Clean-up of Oil Spills," URI, Kingston, RI, 1976.


sourceCEDRE
typeD
volume121000T
material
dead
linkhttp://www.le-cedre.fr/en/spill/torrey/torrey.php


sourceITOPF
typeD
volume119000T
material
dead
linkhttp://www.itopf.com/casehistories.html#torreycanyon


sourceCUTTER
typeD
volume38.2MMG
material
dead
link


sourceMIT79
typeD
volume103200LT
material
dead
link


sourceLawrence, The Mammoth Book of Shipwrecks, p 435-454
typeD
volume
material
dead
link

Lawrence's descriptions are highly sensationalized and not always accurate. He claims the Torrey Canyon took 1 minute to turn 20 degrees, but it is not clear on what this is based. He also says the crew started jettisoning crude on the 26th in hopes of getting her off on the evening tide. The book has a number of interesting quotes, but nothing that really adds to the other sources.


sourceLINK
typeD
volume
material
dead
linkhttp://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/kescom/TorreyCanyon.pdf

This is a copy of the official flag state investigation report. It is a pretty good report. 2008-07-21 .LINK BROKEN 404.


sourceLINK
typeD
volume
material
dead
linkhttp://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/hu/ergsinhu/aboutergs/lastrip.html

This account is extremely unusual in that it focuses on the cause sequence in a pretty objective manner. Claims that a major contributing factor was that the auto-pilot was disengaged and it took a while for the Captain to figure it out. The auto-pilot had three modes: manual, disengaged, and auto with disengaged between manual and auto. Cahill argues the ship should have been in hand-steering, but the Captain twice switched back to auto after making course adjustments. This source points out that the problem could also have been averted with a better design.


sourceCAHILL_G
typeD
volume
material
dead
link

By far the best decription of the cause of this casualty is Chapter 1 of Strandings and their Causes by Captain Richard Cahill, 2nd Edition.


sourceLINK
typeD
volume
material
dead1
linkhttp://www.axfordsabode.org.uk/torreycn.htm

Description of RN response and bombing. Good info on explosion on 4th day. Salvage guy had to leave ER because of fumes. Fortunately, ER exploded at noon during break. Some good pictures.


sourceLINK
typeD
volume
material
dead1
linkhttp://www.zeesleepvaart.com/torreycanyon.eng.htm

Best description of salvage effort. Great pictures. Says Masters original report indicated seven cargo tanks breached and 30,000 tons lost. But by time salvors got on board they found 14 of 18 tanks holed, both pump rooms flooded, and the engine room flooded. Nice picture of the ship, apparently taken afternoon of the 18th, slight list to stbd, weather is calm, but probably some swell.

They attempted to float the ship by blowing out the tanks. Probably the right thing to do, but it meant putting a lot of oil in the water. It was during this effort that the explosion occured, and salvage master killed. On the seventh or eight day, BF 8 gale showed up, main deck started cracking aft of the house, and the ship then broke in two. Salvors felt they could still float the pieces but UK made the decision to bomb the wreck in an attempt to burn off the oil. Salvors were clearly unhappy with the decision.


sourceCTX
typeD
volume120000T
material
dead1
link

There are several points of importance.

  1. The Captain has originally intended to go west of Scillies, put poor navigation put them farther to the east then they intended. The ship was under pressure to make the tide at Milford Haven. The Captain was alerted to the problem early on by the Chief Mate at which point it would have cost him less than a half hour to go west of the Scillies. Despite this, the Captain decided to go thru the gap between the Scillies and Seven Stones Reef. Cahill makes the point that there was animosity between the Captain and the Chief Mate which may have affected the Captain's judgement.
  2. But they did not have large scale charts of the area. Tide was setting to the east toward Seven Stones.
  3. Wind was force 5 and the sea moderate. Visibility was good. The officer of the watch was plotting the course by taking bearings. But he made a mistake, and the correction distracted the Captain.
  4. Captain was slow to alter to port, in part because of fishing boats in the area and in part because the steering wheel had become momentarily disengaged, due to poor design of the Mode switch. There were 3 modes Auto (auto-pilot), Disengaged, and Manual. Disengaged was between Manual and Auto, so in flipping back and forth, it was easy to end up in Disengaged. When the Captain realized, the rudder was not turning (no clicks), he first checked the fuses because this failure had happened before. By the time, they got straightened out, the turn to port was too late. The ship hit Pollard Rock on Seven Stones Reef at 15.75 knots. Tank sounding indicated that all six starboard tanks were breached, possibly others as well. Captain said 7 cargo tanks initiallu, salvors next day found 14 tanks breached. Since the weather was calm in this period and the grounding speed was high, the Master's estimate is probably low. We don't have a tankplan but the ship was about 297 m long. So the LOP must have been at least 200 m.
  5. The ship had been jumboized from a 65,920 tonner to a 118,285 tonner by inserting a 154 foot long section midships. This increased her length from 810 feet to 974 feet. Normally when this is done, no changes are made to the engine and the rudder. As a result the ship is underpowered and has less than usual manueverability. However, in this case, the ship had a 25,000 HP steam turbine which is more power than is typically installed on modern day 120,000 tonners. Question is how much rudder did she have? The Tromedy did not ask this question. The flag state in its report placed the blame entirely on the master because
    he alone had made the decision to go between the Isles of Scilly and the Seven Stones. He had not consulted his officers nor given them advance notice of his intention, and he did not portray sound judgement or exercise the practice of good seamanship. There was no mechanical failure or defect on board the Torrey Canyon of any kind which could have in any way contributed to the casualty. In the Board's opinion, this casualty was caused by human error alone.
    This report apparently makes no mention of the steering wheel problems.
Twin screw would probably not have made much difference here. Most sources say the ship was at full speed which is consistent with the time pressure. The real value of twin screw manueverabilty is at slow speed.

What is clear is that a modern navigation system (GPS and ECDIS) would almost certainly have prevented this spill. No properly equipped and operated modern tanker would have got so far east of the intended track in the first place, and, if some fool decided to shoot the gap between the Scillies and Seven Stones, he would have received early warning on the tide; and the end-game plotting delays and errors would have been eliminated.

ONeil then IMO Secretary General claimed that ship missed channel by only 100 m but CTX has no back up for this. Speech to Royal Academy Of Engineering, 1999

OSIR puts the spill volume at 38,178,000 gallons.