Category Archives: Blog

UK Oil Spills

Torrey Canyon – the Worst Oil Spill in British History

The Torrey Canyon oil spill, off the south-west coast of the United Kingdom in 1967, is among the world’s most significant oil spills.

The Torrey Canyon was built in the United States in 1959 and, at the time, could carry 60,000 tons. She was enlarged to 120,000 tons in Japan in 1965. At the time of the stranding, the Torrey Canyon was chartered to British Petroleum (BP). She was registered in Liberia but she was actually owned by the Bermudian Barracuda Tanker Corporation. This was a subsidiary of Union Oil Company of California, USA. An example of the tangled web of international shipping.

Efforts to lessen the damage to the environment involved the bombing of the wreck by aircraft from the Royal Navy (RN) and Royal Air Force (RAF). The impact of the oil spill was felt over many hundreds of kilometres of shoreline in Britain, France, Guernsey, and Spain. The running aground and eventual break-up of the supertanker left a damaging ecological legacy. It was also responsible for a more positive international legacy, as the disaster led to numerous changes in international regulations. The first was the Global Convention on Civil Liability for Oil Pollution Destruction (CLC) of 1969. This imposed strict liability on ship owners without the need to prove negligence. The second was the much more prolific International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) in 1973. An introduction to MARPOL can be found here.

Until the Odyssey Oil Spill in 1988, the Torrey Canyon was the world’s worst oil spill, with somewhere between 25-36 million gallons of crude oil being spilt. Fortunately, up until the present (2016), it continues to be the worst spill in the UK.

The Torrey Canyon Stranding

At the start of her last voyage (19th February 1967), the Torrey Canyon left the Kuwait National Petroleum Company refinery at Mina Al-Ahmadi, Kuwait (later Al-Ahmadi) full to the brim with crude oil. The ship’s final destination was Milford Haven in Wales. She reached the Canary Islands on 14th March and the Isles of Scilly four days later.

As she didn’t have a scheduled route, she lacked a set of full scale charts for the Isles of Scilly. This, and possibly because she was using the less advanced LORAN navigator, led to a navigational error, and on 18th March 1967 the Torrey Canyon struck Pollard’s Rock on the Seven Stones reef in between the Cornish mainland and the Isles of Scilly.

Which Way Again - Oil Spills

Sorry But Which Way Again?

As the Torrey Canyon was nearing the Isles of Scilly, the fishing fleet was leaving harbor. With a collision turning imminent, there was some confusion between the Captain and the helmsman as to where the ship exactly was. There was also uncertainty as to whether the vessel was being manually steered or was under automatic steering.

The confusion led to the grounding being unavoidable. During the hours and days that followed, substantial attempts were made to get the vessel off the reef but these proved unsuccessful. Sadly, the attempts led to the death of a member on the Dutch salvage crew, Captain Stal.

Left A Bit. Right A Bit. Fire!

Following the failed attempts to refloat the vessel, the main focus turned to clean up and containment of the resulting oil spill. Detergent was deployed on a huge scale by Cornwall fire brigade and the attending Royal Navy vessels to try to disperse the oil. The UK Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, and the Cabinet held a mini-cabinet session on the Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Culdrose. They decided set fire to the vessel and the oil slick to restrict the catastrophic effects of the oil spill. The following events recall the best of British farce.

On 28 March 1967, the Fleet Air Arm sent Blackburn Buccaneer planes 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 help make the oil blaze more intensely.

Torrey Canyon

However, exceptionally high tides put the fire out and it took more bombing runs by Sea Vixens from RNAS Yeovilton and Buccaneers from RNAS Brawdy, as well as yet more RAF Hunters with liquified petroleum jelly to ignite the oil. Bombing continued the subsequent day prior to Torrey Canyon eventually sinking.

Unfortunately, attempts to make use of foam-filled containment booms were also mostly ineffectual, because of the high seas.

Later, in the aftermath of the spill, the British government was strongly criticised for its dealings with the incident, which was at that time, the most costly catastrophe ever. Both the RAF and the Royal Navy were also ridiculed for their rather pathetic bombing efforts, as a quarter of the forty-two bombs dropped missed their large, non-moving target.

The Environmental Consequences of the Oil Spill

50 miles (80 km) of French and 120 miles (190 km) of Cornish coastline were contaminated. All-around 15,000 sea birds ended up being killed, as well as massive numbers of maritime organisms, before the 700 km2 slick was dispersed.

Substantially damage was caused from the heavy use of the so-called detergents to break up the slick – these were first-generation variants of ‘detergents’ first formulated to scrub surfaces in ships’ engine-rooms, without any thought of the toxicity of their components. Several observers believed they were called ‘detergents’, instead of the far more accurate ‘solvent-emulsifiers’, to motivate comparison with more benign domestic cleansing products.

Some 42 vessels sprayed over 10,000 lots of these dispersants on to the floating oil and oil on seashores. In Cornwall, they were frequently misused – for instance, by emptying 45-gallon drums from the top of cliffs to ‘treat’ inaccessible coves or by pouring a stream of dispersants from a low-hovering helicopter. On the intensely oiled beach front at Sennen Cove, dispersant pouring from drums was ‘ploughed’ into the sand by bulldozers a number of times, burying the oil so well that it could be identified 12 months or more afterwards.

After the Torrey Canyon Oil Spill

Apart from the furor about the incompetence of the UK government, the British and French governments issued claims from the owners of the vessel. The subsequent settlement was the largest ever in maritime history for an oil spill claim.

An inquiry in Liberia found that the captain, Pastrengo Rugiati, was to blame for the poor decision in steering the Torrey Canyon between the Scillies and the Seven Stones. The first officer was also to blame for the ill-advised course corrections while the captain slept. Safer course alternatives had been discarded on account of the pressure to arrive in port at Milford Haven by high tide on 18th March.

Coconut Trees - Cocopeat

Cocopeat and The Sustainability of the Humble Coconut

Dragon Sorb is made up of natural products and because you can’t sell anything these days without someone mentioning the environment, we thought it would be useful to explain why Dragon Sorb Cocopeat is seriously good for your Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs.

What Exactly is Cocopeat?

There is some confusion about what cocopeat actually is so let’s start with a quick introduction.

Cocopeat is also known as coir pith, coir fibre pith, coir dust, or simply coir. It is made from coconut husks, which are by-products of other industries that use coconuts, including another of our own products – Nordic Dry. It is chiefly made up of coir fibre pith which is acquired by processing coconut husks and removing the long strands.

Cocopeat can hold large amounts of liquids. A kilogram will grow to 15 litres of damp cocopeat making it a naturally superior absorbent. Phenol, which is a chemical compound naturally found in cocopeat, makes it, the cocopeat, effectual at attaching to the oil when being used to clean up oil spills. This is obviously why we at Dragon Sorb love cocopeat so much.

Why is Cocopeat Great for Your CSR Programs?

One great thing about coconut trees is that they have no need of chemical fertilizers for growing. One tree can also yield up to 200 coconuts each year, which means that the humble coconut is a resource that is easily renewed. This all means that it is well-known for its environmental sustainability. This is why your company can proudly boast that when you are using Dragon Sorb absorbent, you are doing your bit for green issues.

The Wonders of Cocopeat

At Dragon Sorb, we don’t just recognize the scientific wonders of cocopeat. We also know the importance of having a solution to oil spills that does not do even more damage to the environment than is already being done. Using Dragon Sorb is a great start to the healing process for the harm done by oil spills.

Additionally, as cocopeat is a by-product of already existing processes in the coconut industry, it is not taken from places that are becoming damaged when coconuts are harvested. We mainly get our cocopeat from Vietnam, where we work closely with companies to ensure that our products are of the highest possible quality.

With an environmentally friendly and affordable product, we can help keep our planet clean for our children and our children’s children.

Oil Spill in Thailand

Effects of Oil Spills on Marine Life

Hello and welcome to another post in our series about the effects of oil spills. In this post, we are going to take a brief look at how oil affects our furry and feathered friends.

The effects of oil spills on birds and animals happen in two ways:

  1. through the oil itself
  2. through the cleanup of the oil

As I want to keep this article reasonable short, we will be looking at the way oil affects birds and animals. You will be able to read about how dispersants affect animals and birds here when I have finished it.

The way an oil spill is handled depends on many factors, but a good way to start dealing with an oil spill is to decide which is the lesser of the two evils – the oil spill or the way the oil spill is cleaned up. In most cases, if the oil spill is a long way offshore, the best thing to do is just to leave the spill to its own devices, as it will eventually disperse of its own accord.

Effects of Oil Spills on Animals and Birds

When it’s not possible to leave the oil spill to do its own thing, the oil, if it is permitted to, can do a great deal of damage to just about any living thing. This is mainly because of the chemical constituents of oil, which are toxic. The poisonous components may impact organisms in two ways.

  1. Internally though breathing them in or swallowing them and externally when the poisonous chemicals get into the pores of the skin or come in contact with the eyes.
  2. Smothering some species of fish or invertebrates and coating feathers and fur. This lessens the capacity of birds and mammals to regulate their body temperatures.

Pelican Escaping Oiled Waters

Pelican Escaping Oiled Waters – Photo NOAA

What Animals Are Most Affected by Oil Spills?

Given that most oils float, the creatures most affected by oil are seabirds. In the course of most oil spills, seabirds are harmed and killed in higher amounts than other kinds of creatures, mainly because they inhabit not only the sea surface but also the shoreline; the two areas most affected by oil spills.

Sea otters are also harmed by oil as the oil makes it difficult to keep their body temperatures constant. If oil remains on the seashore for any length of time, other creatures, such as snails, clams, and land animals in general will start to suffer.

What Actions Are Taken When Oil-Affected Animals Are Found?

Most countries have rules regarding the techniques to adhere to when dealing with oily animals. Untrained people shouldn’t attempt to clean up birds or animals on their own. This is not usually necessary anyway, as at most U.S. spills, fowl and/or mammal rehabilitation centres are set up to treat oily creatures. If you want to find out more about how you can help, follow this link.

Of course, it would be a far better world if we could live without oil and its side effects but sadly we can’t. Until we can, Dragon Sorb will continue to develop products that will help to protect our furry and feathered friends.

And as always, if you would like to be kept up-to-date on all the things happening at Dragon Sorb, including news of our growing range of products, please fill out the very brief form below.

Featured Image by Sujin Jetkasettakorn at

Oil Well Explosion

The Ten Biggest Oil Spills in History

Here at Dragon Sorb, we are always chatting about happy things like environmental disasters, accidents in the work place, the detrimental effects of traditional clean-up methods on marine wildlife. Aaah, how we laugh. Anyway, a couple of days ago, we were talking about oil spills which turned into a heated discussion about the biggest oil spills in history. By the way, I went for Deepwater Horizon. Read on to find out the facts about the biggest oil spills in history, and to see if I was right.

A couple of things before we start. While doing the research, I discovered that the statistics are surprisingly inconsistent. Although unscientific, I have just split the difference if there are big discrepancies in the oil spills data.

1. Lakeview Gusher
California,  1909 – 1,200,000 tonnes

This is by far the largest of all oil spills in history. One of the main reasons so much oil was spilt was that it took 18 months for the well to be brought under control, partly because it was difficult to find the manpower needed, even though workers were paid $5 a day – $125 in today’s money.

2. Gulf War
Persian Gulf, 1991 – 1,000,000 tonnes

As Saddam Hussein’s troops withdrew they destroyed tankers and oil terminals in Kuwait, spilling millions of barrels of oil. The images of destroyed oil wells on fire will forever remain in people’s memories. Although it would be reasonable to assume that massive environmental problems occurred, experts have stated that little long-term damage resulted.

3. Deepwater Horizon
Gulf of Mexico, 2010 – 660,000 tonnes

And here it is; ‘only’ third on the list. The Deepwater Horizon spill was a bit of a disaster (pardon the pun) from beginning to end; taking 87 days before the well was eventually capped, with the fault probably being defective cement due to alleged cost-cutting. BP was found primarily responsible because it wasn’t an American company and it had lots of money.

4. IXTOC 1:
Mexico, 1979 – 445,000 tonnes

The exploratory well Ixtoc I, situated in the Bay of Campeche off Ciudad del Carmen, Mexico, blew out on June 3, 1979. The well was brought under control in March, 1980.

5. Atlantic Express
Tobago, 1979 – 280,000 tonnes

This must be one of the unluckiest collisions in history as it involved two supertankers, the Aegean Captain and the Atlantic Express, both of which were full! The resulting fire on the Aegean Captain was brought under control and towed to Curacao. The other tanker, the Atlantic Express, was towed out to sea where it eventually exploded.

6. Fergana Valley
Uzbekistan, 1992 – 275,000 tonnes

Little is known of this spill except the amount of oil spilt. At the time of the spill itself, there was almost no media attention, even though it was the largest inland oil spill in modern history.

7. Nowruz Oil Field
Iran, 1983 – 255,000 tonnes

The second on the list from the Persian Gulf region and the second during time of war. However, the damage was actually caused by an oil tanker hitting the oil field platform, which then damaged the well underneath. The reason so much oil was spilt was that it took 7 months to fix it because of the turmoil in the region.

8. ABT Summer
Off the coast of Angola, 1991 – 255,000 tonnes

On 28th May the tanker ABT SUMMER, which was carrying 255,000 tonnes of Iranian heavy crude oil, experienced an explosion and fire about 900 miles off the coast of Angola. The explosion was never explained.

9. Castillo de Bellver
Off the coast of South Africa, 1983 – 250,000 tonnes

Another unexplained fire and explosion, and off the African coast again. Although much closer to the shore than the ABT Summer was, due to prevailing conditions, there was little to no effect on the environment. The Castillo de Bellver broke in two. The stern section sank of its own accord. The bow was towed further offshore and sank after a controlled explosion.

10. Amoco Cadiz
Brittany, 1978 – 220,000 tonnes

This one I remember well as my family were moving to Guernsey the following year. The accident happened after the Amoco Cadiz’s steering failed during a heavy storm. The resulting environmental damage was substantial, with more marine animals being killed  than in any other spill before.

Sadly, with our over-reliance on fossil fuels, these types of accidents are unlikely to stop any time soon. Happily, with Dragon Sorb, there will always be a solution to your oil spill needs.