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1967: Bombs rain down on Torrey Canyon

The stricken oil tanker, the Torrey Canyon, is refusing to sink despite more than a day of heavy bombing.

The supertanker, snagged on rocks between Land's End and the Scilly Isles for 11 days, began breaking up three days ago, leaking more of its cargo into the sea.

Bombing is a last-ditch attempt to send the supertanker to the bottom of the sea, and burn off the tens of thousands of tons of oil which have already formed a slick 35 miles long and up to 20 miles wide around the area.

Direct hits

The bombing raids began yesterday, when eight Royal Naval Buccaneers set off from Lossiemouth in Scotland.

Since then, the RAF and the Royal Navy have dropped 62,000lbs of bombs, 5,200 gallons of petrol, 11 rockets and large quantities of napalm onto the ship.

Despite direct hits, and a towering inferno of flames and smoke as the oil slick began to burn, the tanker refused to sink.

The mission was called off for the day when particularly high spring tides put out the flames.

A disappointed statement from the Home Office said "We have been informed officially that the fire in the wreckage of the Torrey Canyon is out. We cannot say at this stage what the next step will be."

Environmental disaster

It was decided at first light this morning to carry on bombing. Holiday makers gathered on the cliffs to watch the towering column of flames and smoke which could be seen up to 100 miles away.

The shipwreck has coated miles of Cornish beach in brown sludge, in the worst environmental disaster to date.

Oil pollution now stretches from the area of Hartland Point in North Devon, to Start Point, south-west of Dartmouth. Another slick is heading towards the French coast of Normandy.

Dozens of ships have been spraying the oil with detergent since the start of the crisis, in an unsuccessful attempt to disperse it. The slick is still creeping along the south coast, and it is estimated it will reach the Solent within 10 days.

In Context
Bombing continued into the next day before the Torrey Canyon finally sank.

The oil slick was finally dispersed by favourable weather, but not before 70 miles of Cornish beaches were seriously contaminated and tens of thousands of seabirds killed.

The environmental disaster was made far worse by the heavy use of detergent to disperse the slick. A report into the effect on the marine environment found that the detergent killed far more marine life than the oil.

An inquiry in Liberia, where the ship was registered, found the captain, Pastrengo Rugiati, was to blame because he took a short cut to save time in getting to his destination of Milford Haven in Wales.

The government, under Prime Minister Harold Wilson, was strongly criticised for its handling of the incident, which was at that time the costliest shipping disaster ever.

The RAF and the Royal Navy also came in for ridicule, as of 42 bombs dropped on the stationary target, 25% missed their target.


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