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Accidents and the lessons learned

Oil on the beaches: Torrey Canyon, 1967

On the morning of Saturday 18th March 1967, a 61,000 gross ton tanker was approaching the Scilly Isles on a voyage from Kuwait to Milford Haven, Wales, when the master took a short cut. He wanted to catch that evening`s tide, otherwise his deeply-laden tanker would have to wait another five days to reach her berth [definition]. She never reached her destination: just after 9.00 am the Torrey Canyon piled onto the Seven Stones Reef at 17 knots. Crude petroleum poured out of her broken tanks, beginning one of the biggest environmental disasters a ship had ever caused. Thousands of tons of oil coated the beaches of Devon and Cornwall just before the holiday season, killing thousands of seabirds and marine creatures.

Pollution from sinking tankers continues to be a major concern. New tankers are `double hulled` - built with two skins of metal. The hope is that if the outer skin is pierced, the inner skin will prevent the cargo spilling. It will take many years before the older, single-hulled tankers are phased out, however. There is no guarantee that even a double hull will save a tanker wrecked in a violent storm, involved in a serious collision or - like the Torrey Canyon - driven full speed on to rocks.


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