Environment: The Black Tide

As the 207,000-ton supertanker Marpessa sailed serenely past West Africa on the second leg of her maiden voyage, an explosion suddenly ripped her hull. Last week the shattered hulk slipped to the bottom about 50 miles off Dakar. Marpessa was the biggest oil tanker to sink to date. Fortunately, she was empty—a narrow escape from what has become a serious threat to the surprisingly vulnerable ocean.

The potential for oil-pollution disaster has increased along with the size of tankers. In World War II 16,000-ton tankers were standard. Today 300,000-ton behemoths ply the sea, and larger ships are planned. As the Torrey Canyon...

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