What Caused Europe’s Biggest Oil Tanker Disaster?


On the 10th March 1967, one of the world's largest crude oil tankers of the time, the Torrey Canyon, ran aground on rocks near the Scilly Isles off the South West coast of England, carrying 120,000 tons of crude oil. At the time, it was perfectly calm with excellent visibility. The skipper, Captain Pastrengo Rugiati, was neither drunk nor asleep, yet he chose that day to overrule his second-in-command and take a shortcut to go a slightly quicker but more dangerous route between Lands End and the Scilly Isles. Between those two points lay a line of rocks called the Seven Stones. To navigate past them would require pinpoint navigation, with an error of only one mile proving fatal. Bear in mind that the ship's length was over 1000 feet and its draught 50 feet.


A lighthouse with men on guard guiding ships away from the rocks was near that point. They saw the Torrey Canyon coming toward the rocks and fired their warning rockets. They could see the ship's danger, but Captain Rugiati could not. The lighthouse put up its warning flags, but the Torrey Canyon swept on, sailing at full speed, 16 knots (approx. 18 mph). At the very last minute, Rugiati realized his error and ordered his helmsman to swing the wheel hard to port, perhaps seeing the tide causing white breaker waves on the rocks. But nothing happened. Horrified, Rugiati remembered that he had locked the steering wheel into automatic pilot. He quickly turned the autopilot off, and slowly the great ship started to turn. But it was too late. At 8:50 A.M., the Torrey Canyon struck the first of the Seven Stones rocks.


Those who reported the accident in detail told how their captain stood on the bridge, speechless as three-quarters of the hull was split open. All the oil was released into the open ocean heading for the beaches of England and France, one of the biggest disasters in European history. Captain Rugiati had steered his ship and its precious cargo onto well-charted rocks in broad daylight and on a calm day. All of this happened because captain Rugiati wanted to take a shortcut. At his trial, there was one sentence that the Captain kept repeating: "If only I'd had another 30 seconds." But he could have changed course an hour or two hours before. He didn’t even slow his ship down! He refused to see his danger until 30 seconds before hitting the rocks. He was guilty because he refused to take the appropriate action at the proper time.


Can I ask you, dear friend, are you also on automatic pilot? Are you going one day to another, heading for an unknown eternity? There is still time to change course—like now, this moment. Life has a way of hiding the rocks in front of us. Can you think of this short devotional as God trying to get your attention, like the lighthouse firing warning rockets and waving flags? The time to turn the ship is now. You don't know how much time you still have. Take your life off autopilot mode, get on your knees, and plead before the God of the universe to spare your life. Ask Christ to save you from an eternity without God. His substitutionary death on the cross was for you and as you. He will forgive you for what you have done wrong in this life if you turn the ship of your life around. Believe (trust) in Him and ask Him to come into your life and be the Pilot of your life. He will give you new life if you trust Him.


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This meditation is part of a tract published by Grace Enterprises, 41 Old High Street, Folkestone, Kent, England.