In all this the wreck feels very distant. I’m now familiar with every angle of the moment of disaster, I wonder if the period of wrecking itself is noteworthy for the civilian use of overhead helicopter photography. In fact so many things about the wrecking feel clumsily transplanted from military action. Hardly surprising really - how old must the men in charge be in 1967? Forties? Fifties? Most would have served in the second world war in so frame, it’s hard enough now for people to not lurch into the language of conflict, invasion, despoilment. But they I wonder how more ambivalent the experience of watching an oil disaster would be then. It’s novel obviously - it’s not as though people were unaware of the dangers, but as the ships went further and became bigger the risk grew. The Torrey Canyon was a huge ship - a supertanker, a suezmax, some of the largest single mobile structures humans have made.
On my shelf I have the lady bird book of oil, published in 1968 - it must have been being commissioned, written and illustrated with this disaster on the news. It’s an unalloyed celebration of the vast change that oil has brought and the great future it brings. The worlds food shortage will be solved: “If experiments are successful, only forty million tons of petroleum every year could cure the protein shortages of millions of people” we will eat oil, spread it on our fields, feed it to our animals, create ever new materials, green the deserts, The supply is endless and the possibilities inexhaustible. And all dependent on the movement of these vast ships and their sealed lakes of ancient oil moving safely around the globe.
The reports in the 1980s from the wreck itself shows both fragmentation and recovery of it’s immediate environment. The wreck sunk and fractured, bombed - and almost certainly resting on more wrecks and munitions beneath it. I picture it, unseeable, on a pile of teetering wrecks like the toys in a fish tank standing on top of each other. The only real model for what it might look like I have from the wreck of the SS Vina on Brancaster sands in Norfolk. Before parents became cautious we’d, if we got the tide right, walk about the kilometre or so over the doggerland plains to see the ship, now only the hull and stern remaining, and try to peer into the cavity of the aft in which a whole marine wonderland of bright anemones and seaweeds had grown, protected from the sea - and us.