The ship's hull was ruptured and within six hours of the grounding, the Exxon Valdez, captained by Joseph Hazelwood, spilled approximately 10.9 million gallons of its 53 million gallon cargo of crude oil from the Prudhoe Bay Oil Field.
Impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill
Facts about Exxon Valdez oil spill
The Sinking of the Titanic is the most famous ship disaster in history, and the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster gained notoriety as the worst marine environmental disaster.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill happened on March 24, 1989 when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker was run aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska.
Exxon Corporation, known as Standard Oil Company until 1972, was an oil and natural resources company that replaced the Esso, Enco, and Humble brands in the United States on January 1, 1973 and eventually merged with Mobil Corporation as Exxon Mobil in 1999.
The 'Exxon Valdez' was the name of an oil supertanker operated by the Exxon Corporation at the time of the oil spill disaster.
The relatively new 'Exxon Valdez' oil tanker was built by the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company and launched on October 14, 1986. The huge tanker was 987 ft long, 166 ft wide with a depth of 88 ft and had the capacity of carrying 1 .48 million barrels of crude oil. The 'Exxon Valdez' oil tanker weighed 213,755 deadweight tons and had 11 cargo tanks.
The story of the Exxon Valdez oil spill began with the discovery of oil in 1986 at Prudhoe Bay on the Arctic Coast of Alaska.
Navigation and maritime transit from Prudhoe Bay through Prince William Sound presented a substantial risk of a major oil spill and oil companies were expected to be extremely careful regarding their shipping practices and maritime routes.
At the time of the disaster the ship was under the control of its captain Joseph Hazelwood, the guidance of an Alaska state pilot William Murphy, and monitored via radar by the U.S. Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service (VTS).
The tanker was making its 28th voyage and carried an experienced crew of 19, plus the captain. Other members of the crew included chief engineer Jerry Glowacki, radio officer Joel Roberson and Chief Mate James R. Kunkel.
The ship was routinely heading south through Prince William Sound when Captain Joseph Hazelwood made the decision to change course, outside normal shipping lanes, in order to stay clear of icebergs.
Captain Hazelwood then left the bridge, giving third mate Gregory Cousins instructions to steer the Exxon Valdez back into the original course of the southbound lane, once he had passed Busby Island.
Captain Hazelwood violated company policy by not being on the bridge during the transit of Valdez Narrows.
Third Mate Gregory Cousins, who had been working for 18 hours, steered the ship off course to avoid glacial ice, then realized he was heading for Bligh Island and the dangers of Bligh reef, a notorious navigation hazard.
Cousins desperately tried to change course to the deeper waters of the normal traffic lane but the ship scraped and gashed into the submerged reef and ground to a halt in a very unstable position on Bligh Reef at on March 24, 1989. The vessel was in danger of capsizing if it floated off the reef.
The ship's single hull was ruptured and eight of the tankers 11 cargo tanks were torn open.
Within six hours of its grounding, the Exxon Valdez spilled approximately 10.9 million gallons of crude oil into the waters of Prince William Sound. By 7.00am the oil slick measured about 100 feet wide by five miles long.
The catastrophic oil spill resulted in an oil slick that spread over 3,000 square miles and onto over 350 miles of beaches along the remote and scenic Prince William Sound, Alaska.
At 12 p.m. the 'Exxon Baton Rouge' arrived and the remaining 80% of the cargo (44 million gallons) was retained in the tanker and lightered off the wrecked tanker.
By this time the oil slick was now three miles wide by five miles long.
The first, crucial, containment and cleanup efforts failed to effective. Only 4,000 gallons of dispersant were available in nearby Valdez, Alaska and application equipment was practically non-existent.
In a statement on March 30, 1989 President Bush described the Exxon Valdez oil spill as ‘an environmental tragedy.”
A burning method was conducted during the early stages of containment efforts in hope of lifting the oil from the water. The burning process was forced to be abandoned because of unfavorable weather conditions.
Three days after the grounding of Exxon Valdez tanker and the disastrous oil spill, a terrible storm pushed large quantities of fresh oil onto the rocky shores of many beaches throughout the sound.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill was an ecological disaster of enormous magnitude that resulted in the destruction of billions of salmon and herring eggs and the deaths of tens of thousands of seabirds and fish, thousands of sea otters, hundreds of harbor seals and sea lions, 140 bald eagles, and more than 20 orca whales.
The colossal damage caused by the Exxon Valdez oil spill was far-reaching and effected terrestrial mammals, such as deer, river otters and brown bears who inhabited the wilderness of surrounding areas.
Environmental workers worked tirelessly to save seals, otters, and birds that were covered in oil. The oiling of fur or feathers caused loss of insulating capacity which led to death from hypothermia, smothering, drowning, and ingestion of toxic chemicals.
The clean-up operation began, but no sooner had clean-up crews sprayed the coastline rocks with steam hoses, the changing tides brought in a new coating of oil.
The clean-up effort involved 10,000 workers, 1,000 boats and 100 airplanes and helicopters. Exxon Corporation later stated it had spent about $2.1 billion on the cleanup effort.
Halfway through the summer of 1989, new technologies and techniques were developed to help the clean-up process. The oil was biodegraded (broken down) by combinations of microorganisms that were sprayed onto some of the rocks and beaches.
Evaporation, dissolution, dispersion, and photo-oxidation: The natural evaporation process increased in the warmer temperatures of the summer. Components of crude oil started to dissolve in water and the dispersion process began breaking up the oil into small droplets which spread through the water. Sunlight began to react with some oil constituents in the process known as Photo-Oxidation speeding up the process of degradation.
The Exxon Valdez oil spill had a devastating impact on the economy and caused severe financial losses to tourism and the fishing industry
Land and business owners, fishermen and Native American Alaskans harmed by the Exxon Valdez oil spill began filing civil lawsuits against Exxon Corporation.
The legal cases were eventually combined for the trial and after several appeals by the corporation the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the corporation should pay $2.5 billion in damages.
The 1990 Oil Pollution Act was passed to make tankers safer. The act provide for the standard regulation of double hulls on tankers. The regulation requiring double hulls on tankers ensured that if the outer layer of a tanker was punctured, no oil will escape.
After the spill, the Exxon Valdez tanker was towed to San Diego, repaired, and renamed the Exxon Mediterranean. The Exxon Valdez tanker was banned from ever entering Alaskan waters again. The vessel was eventually beached on August 2, 2012.
The captain of the vessel, Joseph Hazelwood, was convicted of a misdemeanor charge of negligent discharge of oil. Hazelwood was fined $50,000, and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service, which he served in Anchorage, Alaska. He was then employed as a maritime consultant with Chalos & Brown,the New York law firm that had represented him during his trial.
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