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Torrey Canyon disaster revisited
Oil covered brown pelicans found off the Louisiana coast and affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill
Oil covered brown pelicans found off the Louisiana coast and affected by the most recent oil spill - BP Deepwater Horizon

The recent oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico has left many asking - how long will the pollution be felt?

In Cornwall we are only too aware of how oil spills can disrupt lives for years and years after they happen.

In 1967 the Torrey Canyon was shipwrecked while trying to take a short cut between Cornwall and Scilly, when 36 million gallons of crude oil was spilt.

Some people still say oil from the disaster is still washed up on our shores to this day.

36 million gallons of oil were spilt by the Torrey Canyon

It remains Britain's worst oil spill.

Certainly there were huge problems for wildlife but as BBC Radio Cornwall's Denis Nightingale reports, few blame those problems on the oil itself.

It was on the 18 March, 1967 that the Torrey Canyon supertanker struck Pollard's Rock between the Scilly Isles and Land's End.

The oil spill leaked and spread along the sea between England and France.

The massive slick killed most of the marine life it touched along the whole of the south coast of Britain and the Normandy shores of France, it subsequently blighted the region for many years thereafter.

Unsuccessful attempts were made to float the ship off the reef, and one member of the Dutch salvage team was killed.

The ship broke apart after being stranded on the reef for several days.

The Torrey Canyon clean up operation
The Torrey Canyon clean up operation

The Fleet Air Arm bombed the wreck in an effort to sink it, burn off the slick and reduce the oil spilling from it.

Although the operation was declared a success, the Navy came in for some criticism for months as around a quarter of the 42 bombs dropped on the stationary target failed to hit it.

The bombing was followed by Royal Air Force and Fleet Air Arm aircraft dropping petrol and napalm to try to burn the oil.

Around 120 miles of Cornish coast and 80 kilometres of France was contaminated and around 15,000 sea birds killed along with huge numbers of marine organisms before the 270 square mile slick dispersed.

An oil slick
An oil slick near the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill contrasts with the water in the Gulf of Mexico

Further damage was caused by the heavy use of detergents to break up the slick.

Some 42 vessels sprayed over 10,000 tons of detergents onto the floating oil to emulsify and disperse it - but as these substances were extremely toxic to many marine organisms they caused even further damage.

The latest on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is that American coastguards who are trying to contain the massive oil slick say oil sheen has started washing ashore on an island off Louisiana.

BP has begun placing a giant funnel on the site of the leak to try to contain the spill.

Meanwhile oil services companies have been to court to try to overturn President Barack Obama's six-month ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Oil slick threatens 'frightening' impacts
14 Jun 10 |  Science & Environment
US oil spill: Mapping the oil slick
21 Jun 10 |  Americas
BP prepares new bid to curb spill
31 May 10 |  Americas
Oil-filled quarry 'disgraceful'
09 Oct 09 |  Guernsey
Torrey Canyon 'lessons learned'
19 Mar 07 |  Devon



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