MARCH 24, 1989: THE EXXON VALDEZ DEVASTATING OIL SPILL

August 11, 2018

Shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989, in a tragic accident, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez had just entered Alaska’s Prince William Sound, after departing the Valdez Marine Terminal full of crude oil when it ran aground, striking Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef. Despite the efforts undertaken to stabilize the vessel and prevent further spillage of oil, more than 250,000 barrels of oil were lost in just a short period of time. An expert ship’s pilot hired to maneuver the 986-foot vessel through the Valdez Narrows, was in control of the wheelhouse. At his side was the captain of the vessel, Joe Hazelwood. Later the captain ordered to take the Exxon Valdez out of the shipping lanes to go around the icebergs. He then handed over control of the wheelhouse to a third mate with precise instructions to turn back into the shipping lanes when the tanker reached a certain point. For reasons that remain unclear, the third mate failed to make the turn back into the shipping lanes and the ship ran aground on Bligh Reef at 12:04 am. Initial responses by Exxon was insufficient to contain much of the spill, and a storm blew in soon after, spreading the oil widely. Eventually, more than 1,000 miles of coastline were fouled. The captain, Joseph Hazelwood, suspected to be drunk and in his cabin at the time of the accident, was acquitted of being intoxicated, but convicted on a misdemeanor charge of negligent discharge of oil. The Valdez spill was the largest in US waters until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters. After several changes of name and ownership, the tanker was converted for hauling bulk ore in the South China Sea. The vessel was finally beached in India in August 2012 and dismantled. (Image: The Exxon Vadez tanker towed from Prince William Sound, Alaska).

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