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Last Updated: Monday, 19 March 2007, 22:04 GMT
Torrey Canyon 'lessons learned'
Emergency planning office
Satellites now monitor ships around the region's coast
Forty years after the worst pollution disaster in the South West, authorities say they are better prepared and equipped to deal with such an incident.

In March 1967 when the Torrey Canyon struck a reef off the Isles of Scilly, 119,000 tons of oil polluted the sea.

About 120 miles of the Cornish coast was contaminated by the massive slick, which killed 15,000 sea birds.

But Cornwall's emergency planning officer has said there are now carefully rehearsed clean-up plans.

When the Torrey Canyon's hull broke on the reef, releasing more oil, the decision was taken to bomb the vessel and blow up its oil tanks.

Computer predictions

The aim was to burn off the oil slick with petrol and napalm bombs and reduce the oil spilling from the vessel, but Steve Winston said such a decision would not be taken today.

The emergency planning officer said: "The bombing of the ship 40 years ago was done with the best of intentions, but looking at what happened, it really was about the most disastrous things they could have done.

"Nowadays, we would keep the vessel as intact as we can and salvage the oil from the vessel."

He said ships were monitored by satellites, huge tugs could tow away vessels in trouble and computer models were used to predict where any oil spill would wash up.

However, despite all the hi-tech equipment in use, Mr Winston said the threat of more pollution disasters could not be ruled out.

"As long as we've got oil tankers at sea, I think they will continue."

The Torrey Canyon clean-up operation involved 78 separate fire brigades, 38 military units including the US Air Force, coastguards, the county council, civil defence volunteers, local mayors and even Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who held a crisis summit at RNAS Culdrose.

The contamination caused by the oil blighted Cornwall's beaches and tourist industry for many years.

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