Landmark spills

Torrey Canyon

On 18 March 1967, the Liberian oil tanker the Torrey Canyon, operated by a subsidiary of the Union Oil Company of California, loaded with 119,000 tonnes of crude oil, grounded between the Isles of Scilly and the British coast. Despite the mobilisation of all the available response means, several oil slicks drifted in the Channel and hit the British then the French coastline over a period of weeks. Royal Air Force bombers were sent to set fire to the vessel. At sea, dispersants were used, which turned out to be more toxic than the oil spilled.

This accident brought to light a risk that had previously been neglected in Europe. It triggered the creation of the first elements of French, British and European oil spill prevention and response policies and the conception of the international convention on the compensation of oil spill victims.

Exxon Valdez

On 24 March 1989, the oil tanker the Exxon Valdez grounded in Prince William Sound (Alaska, USA) with 180,000 tonnes of crude oil onboard. Nearly 40,000 tonnes flooded into the sea, affecting 1,700 km of coastline. The accident was a major psychological shock for the USA and the Exxon group, who had not imagined such a disaster possible. Tens of thousands of volunteers and unprecedented means were mobilised to save birds and mammals and to clean up the shoreline, beach by beach.

Legal action was taken by the American administration, associations and individuals against Exxon, which turned to its insurers.

With judgements on appeal, the case is still not closed at the time of writing. However, with nearly 2.5 billion Dollars paid so far and a fine which could ultimately reach 4 billion Dollars, it is by far the most expensive oil spill in history.

Pressure washing rocks at Prince William Sound (Alaska, USA)



Amoco Cadiz

On 16 March 1978, the Liberian oil tanker the Amoco Cadiz, transporting 227,000 tonnes of crude oil, suffered damage to her steering mechanism, and despite two unsuccessful towing attempts, grounded on Portsall Rocks, on the coast of north Finistère (Brittany, France). The entire cargo spilled out gradually as the vessel broke up on the reef, progressively polluting 360 km of shoreline from Brest to Saint Brieuc. This was the largest oil spill caused by the grounding of a tanker ever recorded in the world. This accident caused the French Government to revise its oil spill response plan (the Polmar Plan), to reinforce its equipment stockpiles (Polmar stockpiles) and to impose traffic lanes in the Channel.

The French state and the local communities affected embarked upon a long and difficult lawsuit against the company Amoco in the United States. After 14 years of proceedings, they eventually obtained 192 million Euros of compensation, less than half of the claimed amount.

The Amoco Cadiz broken in two off the coast of Portsall (Brittany, France)