Along an ancient, storied English coastline 50 years ago, residents woke to an "evil-smelling" dark slick that smothered seabirds and coated the shore in thick tar from a wrecked U.S.-owned tanker, NBC News reported.
Up to 872,300 barrels of oil — 38.6 million gallons — poured into the sea when the 120,000-ton super tanker "Torrey Canyon" took a shortcut and struck a reef on Mar. 18, 1967.
It was the world's largest oil spill at the time, and still ranks among the worst 10 even after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that involved almost 5 million barrels and 210 million gallons.
The 1967 disaster, which occurred three years prior to the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the British Department of the Environment, also led to a rethink on how to respond to oil spills and to tighter rules governing the emerging global fleet of giant tankers.