31st March 1978

Guernsey and France tackle the Amoco Cadiz oil spill

British and French tugs joined forces to save the Channel Islands – and some French beaches – from a 40-mile long oil slick.

When the Amoco Cadiz ran around off the coast of Brittany in mid-March 1978, she split in three and spilled almost 220,000 tons of light crude oil. No doubt, the Torrey Canyon disaster, which had happened just eleven years earlier, would have been in Guernsey residents’ minds as they watched news of the wreck on TV.

Amoco Cadiz

History repeating

Like Amoco Cadiz, the Torrey Canyon was a Liberian-registered tanker. It ran aground off Cornwall and spilled 120,000 tons of crude oil – 100,000 tons less than the Amoco Cadiz. Much of Torrey Canyon’s load washed up on Guernsey’s beaches. Some of the cleaned oil is still being stored and treated in a quarry on the island.

Where the Torrey Canyon spill caused considerable damage, though, the effect from Amoco Cadiz was relatively light, in part because rough seas helped to break it up.

The slick was eventually more than 40 miles long, and heading for Guernsey and Jersey after the ship went down. Guernsey dispatched boats to tackle it with more than 100 tons of dispersant. Once it had been thinned, it would partly evaporate, leaving less to be physically cleaned up. The dispersant spraying operation continued for a week.

Preventative action

France drew up plans to bomb the tanker, as the RAF had done with the remains of the Torrey Canyon. It was hoped that this would burn off the worst of the leaking oil, and although it would cause considerable immediate pollution the long-term effects would be less serious.

A small amount of oil washed ashore at Petit Port. However, the work of the dispersal teams and the French air force saved Guernsey from the worst possible outcome.


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