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SS Torrey Canyon

Name: SS Torrey Canyon
Owner: Barracuda Tanker Corporation
Operator: British Petroleum
Port of registry:  Liberia
Builder: Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co
Yard number: 532
Laid down: 1959
Identification: UK official number 536535
Fate: Sank after running aground on 18 March 1967
General characteristics
Type: Supertanker
Tonnage: 61,263 GRT
Length: 974.4 ft (297.0 m)
Beam: 125.4 ft (38.2 m)
Draught: 68.7 ft (20.9 m)
Propulsion: Single shaft; steam turbine
Speed: 17 knots (31 km/h; 20 mph)
Capacity: 120,000 tons crude oil

SS Torrey Canyon was an LR2 Suezmax Class oil tanker with a cargo capacity for 120,000 tons of crude oil. She was shipwrecked off the western coast of Cornwall, England in March 1967, causing an environmental disaster. At that time she was the largest vessel ever to be wrecked.


  • Design and history 1
  • Accident and oil spill 2
  • References in popular culture 3
  • References 4

Design and history

When laid down by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in the USA in 1959, she had a capacity of 60,000 tons. However, the ship was later enlarged in Japan to 120,000 tons capacity. At the time of the shipwreck she was owned by Barracuda Tanker Corporation, a subsidiary of the Union Oil Company of California, and registered in Liberia[1] but chartered to British Petroleum. She was 974.4 feet (297.0 m) long, 125.4 feet (38.2 m) beam and 68.7 feet (20.9 m) draught.

Accident and oil spill

The ship left the Kuwait National Petroleum Company refinery at Mina al-Ahmadi on her final voyage on 19 February 1967 with full cargo of crude oil, reaching the Canary Islands by 14 March. From there the planned route was to Milford Haven in Wales.

On 18 March 1967, Torrey Canyon struck Pollard's Rock on Seven Stones reef between the Cornish mainland and the Isles of Scilly. An inquiry in Liberia, where the ship was registered, found Shipmaster Pastrengo Rugiati was to blame, because he took a shortcut to save time to get to Milford Haven. Additionally a design fault meant that the helmsman was unaware that the steering selector switch had been accidentally left on autopilot and hence was unable to carry out a timely turn to go through the shipping channel.[2]

On 28 March 1967 the Fleet Air Arm sent Blackburn Buccaneer strike aircraft from RNAS Lossiemouth to drop forty-two 1,000 lb bombs on the ship. Then, the Royal Air Force sent Hawker Hunter jets from RAF Chivenor to drop cans of aviation fuel to make the oil blaze.[3] However, exceptionally high tides put the fire out and it took further effort by Fleet Air Arm de Havilland Sea Vixens from RNAS Yeovilton and Buccaneers from the Naval Air Station at Brawdy, as well as more RAF Hunters with liquified petroleum jelly (not napalm, as HMG denied that the UK forces had stocks of napalm) , to ignite the oil. Attempts to use foam booms to contain the oil were of limited success due to their fragility in high seas. Bombing continued into the next day before Torrey Canyon finally sank.[4]

The wreck now lies at a depth of 30 metres (98 ft).

References in popular culture

  • Serge Gainsbourg composed and recorded the song Torrey Canyon about the incident.[5]
  • In a 2005 episode of Top Gear, Jeremy Clarkson called James May's Jaguar XJS "The Torrey Canyon" in reference to a catastrophic oil leak. He continued the joke by referring to it later as "The Exxon Valdez".
  • In episode 6 of series 13 of Heartbeat, "The Holiday's Over", Vernon Scripps lost all his money after joining a syndicate to insure the ship for its journey to the UK.


  1. ^ "The Torrey Canyon's last voyage".  
  2. ^ Rothbloom, A. Human Error and Marine Safety (pdf). 
  3. ^ Mounter, Julian (29 March 1967). "Night Strafe On Blazing Tanker Tide puts out fire".  
  4. ^ "ON THIS DAY 29 March 1967: Bombs rain down on Torrey Canyon".  
  5. ^ Simmons, Sylvie (2 February 2001). "The eyes have it".  

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