November 12, 1969
OIL POLLUTION SETTLEMENT
Mr. MUSKIE. Mr. President, as the conference between the Senate and the House approaches on the Water Quality Improvement Act of 1969 (S. 7 and H.R. 4148), I invite the attention of Members of both Houses of Congress to an article published today concerning the settlement of oil pollution claims arising from the Torrey Canyon disaster in 1967.
Although the Governments of France and England brought suits against the owners of the tanker for $22 million, the settlement was made in the amount of $7.2 million. As the article points out, Britain alone was estimated to have spent more than the amount of the settlement in clean up costs, and no estimate was available from France.
This settlement comes at an auspicious time, as our conference approaches and as the International Maritime Consultative Organization meets in Brussels to consider changes in international maritime law. I hope that both of these bodies will accept the principle which the Senate approved in passing S. 7 last month; that is, that the responsibility for cleanup of oil spill should not be borne by the public, but must instead be considered to be a risk of doing business.
I ask unanimous consent that the article, published in the Washington Post, be printed in the RECORD.
There being no objection, the article was ordered to be printed in the RECORD, as follows:
FIRM PAYS TWO NATIONS $7.2 MILLION FOR TORREY CANYON'S OIL DAMAGE
LONDON, November 11. -- The American owners of the oil tanker Torrey Canyon paid $7.2 million today to Britain and France in an out-of-court settlement for oil pollution claims filed after the giant ship ran aground off southwest England in March, 1967.
The payment, split evenly between the two nations, came from the Barracuda Tanker Corp. in Bermuda, a subsidiary of the Union Oil of California. The 119,000-ton vessel was under charter to Union Oil when it broke apart and spilled about 35 million gallons of crude oil.
The joint government announcement also said the owners had agreed to set aside another $60,000 to compensate any claims from persons not already reimbursed by the governments for their losses.
British Attorney General Sir Elwyn Jones told the House of Commons it was "full and final settlement of the claims of the two governments" Lloyd's insurance brokers said they believed it was the biggest settlement in marine history for oil claims.
Britain virtually assured itself of legal satisfaction recently when it caught the Torrey Canyon’s sister ship, the Lake Palourde, in Singapore harbor when its captain put in for some minor supplies.
In order to gain the ship's release, the Barracuda firm was required to post a bond of $7.2 million --the precise amount of today's settlement.
$22 MILLION SOUGHT
In the aftermath of the Torrey Canyon spillage, the two governments sued the tanker owner for $22 million. But the owners claimed that under maritime law they were liable only for a certain value per ton of the ship's weight, which would have been $4.2 million.
In addition, there was a jurisdictional problem: the ship ran aground on the Seven Stones rocks off Land's End, which is British. But its cargo damaged 40 miles of French beach as well as 120 miles of English coastline.
In view of the "uncertainties, inevitable delays and expense of litigation, complex and unique points of law involved in proving liability, and finally the difficulty in qualifying and proving damages." Sir Elwyn told Parliament "this settlement is eminently fair and satisfactory to all parties."
Britain was estimated to have spent more than $7.2 million in 1967 to save beaches and wildlife from the oil. An estimated 50,000 sea birds perished and more than 25 million gallons of detergent were used to emulsify the crude oil so the beaches and birds could be cleaned. No French estimate was available.
The British also wanted the payment to cover the cost of the Royal Air Force bombing runs that finally destroyed the ship and sent it to the bottom. The ship reportedly was insured for $14 million.
Because the ship was registered in Liberia, a Liberian Board of Inquiry investigated -- and found Capt. Pastrengo Rugiati of Genoa, Italy, guilty of "a high degree of negligence." He is reportedly a broken man, his career and health shattered.
The settlement came while international lawyers are meeting in Brussels to consider revisions to maritime law covering oil tanker accidents.
The Union Oil Co. also faces claims involving an offshore rig in the Santa Barbara channel of California that leaked in January, creating an 800-square-mile oil slick that polluted more than 25 miles of coastline.