18th March 1967

Torrey Canyon spills oil on Guernsey’s beaches

The SS Torrey Canyon was the largest vessel ever to be wrecked. When she ran aground off the coast of West Cornwall, the Liberian-registered tanker spilled 119,328 tonnes of crude oil. Much of it washed up on Guernsey.

The 1959-launched ship, whose original capacity had been just 60,000 tons, had been chartered by British Petroleum. She was en route from Kuwait to Milford Haven in Wales when she struck Pollard’s Rock, close to the Isles of Scilly, on 18 March. After several days of being battered by the sea, she began to fall apart.

Bombed by the RAF

The Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm bombed the wreck in an effort to burn off the leaking oil. On 28 March, they dropped 454 kg of bombs on the Torrey Canyon, but the resulting fire was extinguished by the tide. In an effort to re-ignite it, they dropped cans of jet fuel on the few remaining flames, hoping to revive them, with limited success.

The bombing operation continued until more than 100 bombs, around a dozen rockets, 1500 tons of napalm and 44,500 litres of kerosene had been thrown onto the wreck. Booms were placed around the 36-million-gallon slick to contain it but did little to stop the oil from reaching Guernsey within a week of the tanker running aground.

Polluted beaches

When the oil washed up, it spoiled some of the west coast beaches. It also affected 120 miles of the Cornish coast and 50 miles of the French coast. The slick eventually covered 270 square miles and killed 15,000 sea birds.

The oil that washed up on Guernsey was sucked up into sewage tankers and transported to a quarry in Vale. After sitting there for several years, microbes were added to the stored waste. It was hoped thatches would break it down into a harmless mix of carbon dioxide and water.


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Other events that occured in March