Exxon Valdez Crash

Exxon Valdez Crash

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One of the worst oil spills in U.S. territory begins when the supertanker Exxon Valdez, owned and operated by the Exxon Corporation, runs aground on a reef in Prince William Sound in southern Alaska. An estimated 11 million gallons of oil eventually spilled into the water. Attempts to contain the massive spill were unsuccessful, and wind and currents spread the oil more than 100 miles from its source, eventually polluting more than 700 miles of coastline. Hundreds of thousands of birds and animals were adversely affected by the environmental disaster.

It was later revealed that Joseph Hazelwood, the captain of the Valdez, was drinking at the time of the accident and allowed an uncertified officer to steer the massive vessel. In March 1990, Hazelwood was convicted of misdemeanor negligence, fined $50,000, and ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service. In July 1992, an Alaska court overturned Hazelwood’s conviction, citing a federal statute that grants freedom from prosecution to those who report an oil spill.

Exxon itself was condemned by the National Transportation Safety Board and in early 1991 agreed under pressure from environmental groups to pay a penalty of $100 million and provide $1 billion over a 10-year period for the cost of the cleanup. However, later in the year, both Alaska and Exxon rejected the agreement, and in October 1991 the oil giant settled the matter by paying $25 million, less than 4 percent of the cleanup aid promised by Exxon earlier that year.

Exxon Valdez Spill Profile

On March 24, 1989, shortly after midnight, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound, Alaska, spilling more than 11 million gallons of crude oil. The spill was the largest in U.S. history and tested the abilities of local, national, and industrial organizations to prepare for, and respond to, a disaster of such magnitude. Many factors complicated the cleanup efforts following the spill. The size of the spill and its remote location, accessible only by helicopter and boat, made government and industry efforts difficult and tested existing plans for dealing with such an event.

The spill posed threats to the delicate food chain that supports Prince William Sound's commercial fishing industry. Also in danger were ten million migratory shore birds and waterfowl, hundreds of sea otters, dozens of other species, such as harbor porpoises and sea lions, and several varieties of whales.

Since the incident occurred in open navigable waters, the U.S. Coast Guard's On-Scene Coordinator had authority for all activities related to the cleanup effort. His first action was to immediately close the Port of Valdez to all traffic. A U.S. Coast Guard at USCG investigator, along with a representative from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, visited the scene of the incident to assess the damage. By noon on Friday, March 25, the Alaska Regional Response Team was brought together by teleconference, and the National Response Team was activated soon thereafter.

Alyeska, the association that represents seven oil companies who operate in Valdez, including Exxon, first assumed responsibility for the cleanup, in accordance with the area's contingency planning. Alyeska opened an emergency communications center in Valdez shortly after the spill was reported and set up a second operations center in Anchorage, Alaska.

The Coast Guard quickly expanded its presence on the scene, and personnel from other Federal agencies also arrived to help. EPA specialists in the use of experimental bioremediation technologies assisted in the spill cleanup and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at NOAA was involved in providing weather forecasts for Prince William Sound, allowing the cleanup team to adapt their methods to changing weather conditions. Specialists from the Hubbs Marine Institute in San Diego, California, set up a facility to clean oil from otters, and the International Bird Research Center of Berkeley, California, established a center to clean and rehabilitate oiled waterfowl.

Three methods were tried in the effort to clean up the spill:

A trial burn was conducted during the early stages of the spill. A fire-resistant boom was placed on tow lines, and two ends of the boom were each attached to a ship. The two ships with the boom between them moved slowly throughout the main portion of the slick until the boom was full of oil. The two ships then towed the boom away from the slick and the oil was ignited. The fire did not endanger the main slick or the Exxon Valdez because of the distance separating them. Because of unfavorable weather, however, no additional burning was attempted in this cleanup effort.

Shortly after the spill, mechanical cleanup was started using booms and skimmers. However, skimmers were not readily available during the first 24 hours following the spill. Thick oil and heavy kelp tended to clog the equipment. Repairs to damaged skimmers were time consuming. Transferring oil from temporary storage vessels into more permanent containers was also difficult because of the oil's weight and thickness. Continued bad weather slowed down the recovery efforts.

In addition, a trial application of dispersants was performed. The use of dispersants proved to be controversial. Alyeska had less than 4,000 gallons of dispersant available in its terminal in Valdez, and no application equipment or aircraft. A private company applied dispersants on March 24, with a helicopter and dispersant bucket. Because there was not enough wave action to mix the dispersant with the oil in the water, the Coast Guard representatives at the site concluded that the dispersants were not working and so their use was discontinued.

Efforts to save sensitive areas were begun early in the cleanup. Sensitive environments were identified, defined according to degree of cleanup, and then ranked for their priority for cleanup. Seal pupping locations and fish hatcheries were given the highest importance, and for these areas special cleaning techniques were approved. Despite the identification of sensitive areas and the rapid start-up of shoreline cleaning, however, wildlife rescue was slow. Adequate resources for this task did not reach the accident scene quickly enough. Through direct contact with oil or because of a loss of food resources, many birds and mammals died.

In the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez incident, Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which required the Coast Guard to strengthen its regulations on oil tank vessels and oil tank owners and operators. Today, tank hulls provide better protection against spills resulting from a similar accident, and communications between vessel captains and vessel traffic centers have improved to make for safer sailing.

Twenty Years Later, Impacts of the Exxon Valdez Linger

Two decades after the Exxon Valdez spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s waters, the Prince William Sound, its fishermen, and its wildlife have still not fully recovered.

Shortly after the Exxon Valdez oil spill gripped the world with images of an environmental assault, the CEO of the oil company predicted that in a few years there would be “nothing” to evidence the disaster.

He was wrong. Today, 20 years after the largest spill in U.S. waters, the oil that gushed from the hull of the Exxon Valdez is still having effects.

Sea otters once again play in the waters of Alaska’s Prince William Sound, and salmon and some other species have rebounded. But killer whale populations have not recovered, and the huge schools of whirling herring that fed both fishermen and animals have not returned, reminding scientists that nature’s responses are complex and unpredictable.

Humans, too, have had a mixed response. Maritime safety agencies mandated key improvements: single-hulled tankers are finally on their way out, and some places, like the Alaskan town of Valdez, have created impressive spill response teams. But our thirst for oil — coupled with the steady disappearance of Arctic sea ice — is now prompting ambitions to drill across the Arctic, where a spill could bring a greater disaster.

The jeweled beauty of the waters off Cordova and Valdez was disfigured on March 24, 1989, by the stain of 11 million gallons of crude oil, pouring from a gash in the single hull of the Exxon Valdez. The ship had bellied into a well-known reef as its captain slept off a vodka bender and, at the wheel, his third mate missed a turn.

The spill remains the most costly maritime accident in the world. Volunteers rushed to Valdez to scrub otters and ducks with gentle soap, only to watch them die. Exxon papered the towns with money, hiring fishermen to wash oil off the beaches. The company soon declared the once-pristine area largely healed, even as its creatures continued to die.

Exxon also sent waves of lawyers to fight the court awards from the spill, finally last year winning a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the company to pay about ten cents for each dollar of the original award to fishermen and others affected by the spill.

The most positive results from the disaster involve oil tanker safety. In 1990, the U.S. Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act, requiring a phase-out of single-hulled oil tankers in U.S. waters by 2010 — a belated acknowledgment that a double-hulled tanker would have contained much of the oil lost from the Exxon Valdez. The Act set up a liability fund, toughened spill disaster plans, and created a mechanism for citizen-led oversight committees to police safety claims by shippers.

Special tugs now usher tankers in and out of Valdez to the open sea. Response teams armed with pre-positioned equipment have successfully handled smaller spills at Valdez. The Coast Guard, which failed to watch the errant course of the Exxon Valdez, now has a sophisticated satellite tracking system for maritime traffic past the straits.

“We certainly suffered and paid the price, but now we have the world’s most robust oil response anywhere in the world,” said Tom Copeland, who fished from Cordova and was a member of the citizen’s group that insisted on safety improvements.

Worldwide, the frequency of major accidents in oil shipping has dropped, and insurance experts say safety has improved. The requirement for double-hulled tankers spurred the shipping industry to modernize with much safer ships. Some oil companies, like Arco and BP, now use tankers that exceed the legal requirements, with redundant power and steering systems to minimize failures.

“On the whole, if you look at the long view of history,” said Aldo Chircop, a maritime law expert at Dalhousie Law School in Halifax, “the Valdez spill has pushed standards up.”

The International Maritime Organization eventually followed the U.S. lead, acting to phase out single-hulled oil tankers between 2010 and 2015. But it did so only after Europe’s own versions of the Valdez spill. The tanker Erika sank in 1999, coating French beaches, and the Prestige split up at sea in 2002, spreading heavy fuel oil onto Spanish coasts.

About 300 single-hulled tankers remain on the high seas, including the patched Exxon Valdez, renamed the Sea River Mediterranean. It is prohibited from entering Prince William Sound.

Exxon insists it has done its duty by paying $3.8 billion in cleanup costs and damages. The company reached a settlement with the state and federal governments in 1991 and paid nearly $1 billion, mostly for habitat and restoration programs. In addition, it has paid more than $2 billion in cleanup costs and another $507 million to compensate 11,000 fishermen, landowners, and businesses for their losses.

But in a class-action suit by about 32,000 plaintiffs, ranging from cannery workers to native Alaskans, a jury decided in 1994, that Exxon should pay punitive damages equal to about a year’s worth of Exxon’s profits, or $5 billion.

Exxon balked and embarked on a long-running legal battle. In 2006, a federal appeals court cut the award to $2.5 billion. Exxon appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing the punitive damages were excessive and a “windfall” to the plaintiffs. In a decision that set legal precedent in maritime law, the Supreme Court last June ruled 5-3 that punitive awards should not exceed actual damages, effectively limiting Exxon’s additional liability to $507 million.

“What industry learned is all they have to do is stall and they can get the Supreme Court to let them wiggle out of the punitive damages,” said Riki Ott, a marine biologist whose career in commercial fishing ended with the spill.

Melanie Duchin, a Greenpeace coordinator in Anchorage, said, “Most Alaskans are in favor of resource development. But there still is a lot of outrage with Exxon about how the plaintiffs had to wait to get such small punitive damages. There is a very bad taste in people’s mouths about Exxon.”

For many years Exxon has minimized the effects of the spill. In a statement last week responding to queries on the 20th anniversary, the company asserted that “there has been no long-term damage caused by the spilled oil,” adding, “The ecosystem in Prince William Sound today is healthy, robust and thriving.”

Exxon said it employed 13,000 people in the clean-up effort. But the dramatic scenes of hired workers washing oil off beaches turned out to be images of futility. Ott, who has written about the spill, says she can dig a hole in a beach on the sound and watch as it fills with oil. A 2001 federal survey found that oil remained on or under more than half the sound’s beaches.

Estimates of the total amount of oil that remains in the environment have varied, but the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, a government-created monitor, concluded that the oil disappears at less than 4 percent per year. At that rate, the council said, the oil will “take decades and possibly centuries to disappear entirely.”

Since the spill, Prince William Sound has been among the most intensively studied of environments. But the more scientists have learned, the less they realize they understand how different species have been affected.

The Trustee Council found 17 of 27 monitored species have not recovered. For example, researchers concluded that the high-pressure hoses used on the beaches did more harm than good. The pressure destroyed interlocking layers of gravel and flushed away fine sediments that scientists now know provided a kind of armor for the beaches during storms, helping to protect clams and mussels. The damage to the shellfish, in turn, slowed the recovery of otters, which feed on the mollusks.

Natural variability has increased the difficulty of calculating the spill’s effects. Wild pink salmon, for example, are listed as a “recovered” species, evidenced by a 2007 run estimated at 11.6 million fish. Their numbers, aided by a large hatchery operation, have rebounded from a low of 1.3 million three years after the spill. But it is hard to determine what is normal: pink salmon in the Sound before the spill varied from a high of 23.5 million fish in 1984 to a low of 2.1 million in 1988.

And while salmon are seen as a success story, the ecosystem in the sound is crippled by the failure to see a return of the huge schools of Pacific herring, which were hit by the spill just as they were spawning. The herring fishery, which provided up to half of the income of Cordova fishermen, has been closed to commercial fishing except for a few brief periods since the spill.

Scientists say they do not really understand why the herring stock has not rebounded. But they do believe that failure has reduced populations of seabirds that feed on the small fish. Investigators believe that 100,000 to 300,000 of the estimated 1 million seabirds in Prince William Sound died initially. Different species have recovered at different rates — murres have gradually returned in large numbers but other species like Harlequin Ducks and Black Oystercatchers have not — and the waterfowl may not fully recover until the herring are again healthy.

The food chain has magnified the effect of the spill in other insidious ways. Orcas, or killer whales, in the sound are afflicted by bio-accumulation of toxins. Fourteen out of the 36 killer whales in the resident Prince William Sound pod disappeared shortly after the spill. Researchers believe their lungs were seared by the toxic fumes, though orca carcasses usually sink, so no autopsy was possible.

The resident pod, which remains in the Sound and primarily eats fish, slowly is recovering. Another Prince William Sound pod of “transient” killer whales mostly eats sea mammals. As the chemicals in the spilled oil were ingested by animals higher on the food chain, the amount of chemicals, called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, accumulated in marine mammals. Researchers theorize that may help doom the transient orca pod at the top of the food chain. They have “no hope of recovery,” the Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council researchers concluded.

Fisherman Tom Copeland does not need the scientists to tell him that his old fishing grounds have not recovered. “It’s quiet in Prince William sound,” he said. “You don’t hear the birds. You don’t see the wildlife that you used to see. The ecosystem took a hell of a hit.”

Now, with Arctic sea ice disappearing, global oil companies are making plans to drill throughout the Arctic Ocean, which is estimated to contain as much oil as Venezuela and as much natural gas as Russia. The dangers of drilling and transportation in the Arctic are great. Dispersants used by oil companies do not work well at or near freezing temperatures. Booms to contain a spill cannot be used with icebergs floating in the water. The skimmer boats, tugs, and other equipment needed for quick response will be useless if they are parked far from a spill in an ice-locked inlet.

“Once the oil is in the water, you have lost most of the battle — you can’t recover it,” said Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska professor and an oil spill consultant. “I have worked on these things all over the world in the last 20 years and the take-home message is you can’t clean them up.”

To many conservationists and some residents of Prince William Sound, the lesson of the Exxon Valdez is clear: Until we stop focusing on extracting oil from ever-more remote environments, and concentrate instead on developing renewable sources of energy, another major spill in the Arctic is inevitable.

“The only real way to eliminate the risks to the environment is to get off of oil,” concludes Duchin, of Greenpeace. “It’s going to continue to happen until we break our addiction to fossil fuels.”

Says Ott, the biologist, “As long as we are going to be using this stuff we are going to be spilling it. It goes with the territory.”

Doug Struck covered the Valdez oil spill for the Baltimore Sun and has reported frequently from the Arctic for The Washington Post during 30 years as a journalist. He has been a foreign and national correspondent reporting from six continents and 50 states, a Harvard Nieman fellow and Pulitzer Prize finalist. At The Washington Post, he specialized in global warming issues in assignments ranging from the Northwest Passage and Greenland to melting glaciers on the Andes Mountains. He now freelances and teaches journalism at Boston University. More about Doug Struck →

The biggest spills in history

Perhaps surprisingly, given its notoriety and impact on the shipping industry, the Exxon Valdez spill was only the 36th worst tanker oil spill yet recorded. The biggest between 1970 and 2018 happened in 1979, off the coast of Tobago in the West Indies when the Atlantic Empress lost 287,000 tons of crude in a collision with another tanker. For comparison, the Valdez lost 37,000 tons. (There is roughly 305 gallons in a metric ton of oil.)

The worst tanker accident in the past 25 years occurred in January 2018, when two tankers collided off the coast of China. An Iranian oil tanker, the Sanchi, lost 117,000 tons of highly toxic natural gas condensate. None of Sanchi's 32 crew members survived.

By far the biggest accidental spill into the ocean was from the Deepwater Horizon oil drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico. At 35,000 feet, it was the deepest well ever drilled until the blow out that killed 11 workers. Over nearly 90 days the broken well pumped 680,000 tons (approximately 5 million barrels) of oil into the Gulf. The spill cost oil company BP an estimated $61.6 billion, and they still couldn’t contain or recover all the oil that was spilled, said Michel, who worked on the project to assess some of the impacts.

20 Years After the Exxon Valdez: Preventing--and Preparing for--the Next Oil Spill Disaster [Slide Show]

Minutes after midnight, on March 24, 1989, the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound on Alaska's southern coast. Some 10.8 million gallons (40,900 kiloliters) of oil spilled from the deep gash in the ship's hull, eventually washing up on more than 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) of pristine coastline, causing what still stands as the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

The impact on local wildlife was devastating: An estimated 250,000 seabirds died in the months after the spill, and 14 members of the 36 local Prince William Sound killer whale pod had disappeared by 1990. The so-called carcass count also tallied, among other creatures, 1,000 dead sea otters as well as 151 dead bald eagles, according to the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council (EVOSTC), a group formed to oversee restoration projects. Some of the spill remains to this day, with a 2003 estimate pointing to about 20,000 gallons (75,700 liters) soaked deep into sands in intertidal zones, slowly poisoning ducks and other shore creatures.

The spill affected people living in or near the sound economically and culturally. Commercial fishing and tourism both took hits pre-spill levels of herring, a fish important for marine food chains and human consumption have yet to bounce back. Alaskan Native communities that subsist on fish and shellfish in the region only saw some of the dwindled sea life populations regain their pre-spill levels by 2003.

The Exxon Valdez calamity also incurred crushing cleanup costs and a legal maelstrom. The giant energy company, then known as Exxon (and as ExxonMobil since its 1999 merger with Mobil) initially settled for $900 million in 1991, to be paid over ten years. Then, in 1994, a jury in Alaska ordered Exxon to pay an additional $5 billion in punitive damages as a result of a class-action lawsuit brought by thousands of Alaskan residents. Just last year, however, after nearly two decades of legal wrangling, the U.S. Supreme Court lowered this fine to about $500 million after multiple appeals from Exxon. All told, the company says in a statement about the notorious anniversary that it has paid "over $3.8 billion as a result of the accident, including compensatory payments, cleanup payments, settlements and fines," and that "the 1989 Valdez accident was one of the lowest points in ExxonMobil's 125 year history."

Tragically, much of the damage might have been avoided with adequate emergency measures in place, says Rebecca Talbot, a spokesperson for the EVOSTC. A silver lining in the accident's aftermath has been a "leap in knowledge," says Talbot, gained from intensive monitoring of the short- and long-term effects of oil spills. The spill also had a galvanizing effect on lawmakers who passed the federal 1990 Oil Pollution Act to help stave off a repeat of the disaster by increasing oversight, stiffening penalties, mandating contingency planning, and creating new research programs.

Since the 1989 crash, the international push for double-hulling oil tankers&mdashalready well under way when the single-hulled Exxon Valdez spilled its toxic cargo&mdashhas increased, with the United Nations mandating a worldwide phase-out of most single-hulled ships next year. Tanker tracking and warning systems, aided by the advent of the satellite-based global positioning system (GPS), have improved tremendously, as well, experts say.

The key improvement since the Exxon Valdez incident has not been in hardware but in "peopleware," says Robert Bea, a professor of civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, (who has driven an oil tanker as part of his research). "What the incident did was began coalescing the international marine community to clean up its act and focus on people and not just [sea] vessels and the like," Bea says.

After all, human error played the biggest role in the accident, according to the National Transportation Safety Board's analysis, along with other official reports. Instructions from the ship's captain, Joe Hazelwood, to return the vessel to the shipping lanes after steering clear of icebergs apparently never reached the helmsman, Robert Kagan, at the time of the wreck. Anecdotal reports about seeing the captain at a bar prior to leaving port, confirmed by a blood test revealing alcohol in his body hours after the accident, also spoke to the lack of staff oversight at the time by Exxon and other oil companies with supertankers on the high seas.

But thicker and doubled hulls, better monitoring and a rested, well-trained crew will not always be enough, says Bea. When spills from tankers do happen, an array of cleanup and remediation techniques, along with specialized technology come to the fore, both to tackle the mess and save the wildlife caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. See the slide show to learn more about the consequences of the Exxon Valdez incident, and how both preventing and remediating oil spills' long-lasting effects have advanced in the last 20 years.

Slide Show: Preventing AnotherExxon Valdez Disaster

80s History – 03/24/89 The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

Whatever caused the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, the fact that it happened in such a remote location added to the difficulty of responding quickly to it and preventing further damage. To clean up the spill, it took more than four summers, 10,000 workers (at its peak), approximately a thousand boats and about 100 helicopters and airplanes.

Cost to the Environment

Despite the extent of the human cleanup efforts, the damage to the environment was unparalleled. No one really knows exactly how many animals died due to the oil spill, but the best estimates include some of these numbers:

These numbers are just the casualties. Some animals survived, but a professional team of veterinarians and a dozens of volunteers had to set up a cleaning and recovery facility for the oiled birds and sea otters.

Birds covered in oil from the Exxon Valdez oil spill

The Economic Cost

Apart from the environmental cost, there’s also the economic impact of the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The accident adversely affected Alaska’s fishing industry (especially sport fishing and commercial fishing) and tourism industry (losing over 26,000 jobs and over $2.4 billion in sales). About 15,000 subsistence permit holders lost their source of food, because nobody wants to eat contaminated fish.

What Caused the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill?

Various reports following the accident have identified a number of factors that made Exxon Valdez ran aground on the reef under the command of Captain Joseph Hazelwood. It was reported that the captain was not at the helm of the tanker when it met with the accident in a route that is known for its navigational hazards.

According to reports, before handing over the ship’s control to the Third Mate, Hazelwood had apparently altered the vessel’s course to avoid icebergs. The Third Mate, unfortunately, failed to manoeuvre the vessel properly and the vessel left the shipping lane to end up colliding with the reef, chiefly due to broken radar. In fact, the radar was not working for more than a year before the oil spill accident.

Further investigations also revealed that Hazelwood was under the influence of alcohol and he was asleep in his bunk during the time of the accident.

Investigators also pointed out that Hazelwood made a mistake by handing over the vessel’s helm to the sleep-deprived Third Mate, who was also not professionally qualified to take control of the vessel. The vessel also didn’t have sufficient crew abroad to perform the duties, further investigations revealed.

Moreover, authorities found that Exxon, like many other shipping companies, was not following measures that had agreed upon, including the installation of iceberg monitoring equipment.

Reports also said the accident occurred as the ship took a route which was not prescribed under the normal shipping route. Because of this violation by the Exxon Valdez, owner Exxon Mobil charted out a clause which spoke about the strict following of the prescribed shipping routes and lanes so as to avoid any further marine accident of a magnitude like the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill.

After a year-long investigation and trial, Hazelwood was acquitted of being drunk during the voyage. However, the captain was convicted of misdemeanour negligence fined $50,000 and sentenced to serve 1,000 hours of community service.


The tanker was 301 meters long, 51 meters wide, and 26 meters deep (987 ft x 166 ft x 88 ft), with a deadweight of 214,861 long tons and a full-load displacement of 240,291 long tons. The ship was able to transport up to 235,000 m³ (1.48 million barrels) at a sustained speed of 30 km/h 16.25 knots, powered by a 23.60 MW (31,650 shp) diesel engine. Her hull design was of the single-hull type, constructed by National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego, California. She was a relatively new tanker at the time of the spill, having been delivered to Exxon on December 16, 1986.

Oil spill Edit

At the time of the spill, Exxon Valdez was employed to transport crude oil from the Alyeska consortium's pipeline terminal in Valdez, Alaska, to the lower 48 states of the United States. At the time it ran aground, the vessel was carrying about 201,000 m³ (53.1 million gallons) of oil. After the spill, the vessel was towed to San Diego, arriving on June 10, 1989, and repairs were started on June 30, 1989. Approximately 1,600 tons of steel were removed and replaced that July, totaling US$30 million of repairs to the tanker. Its single-hull design remained unaltered.

The Exxon Valdez spill occurred under President George H. W. Bush, whose EPA Administrator William K. Reilly played a significant role in mobilizing presidential support for action to contain and clean up the spill. [9]

Litigation Edit

Litigation was filed on behalf of 38,000 litigants. In 1994, a jury awarded plaintiffs US$287 million in compensatory damages and US$5 billion in punitive damages. Exxon appealed and the Ninth Circuit Court reduced the punitive damages to US$2.5 billion. Exxon then appealed the punitive damages to the Supreme Court which capped the damages to US$507.5 million in June, 2008. On August 27, 2008, Exxon Mobil agreed to pay 75% of the US$507.5 million damages ruling to settle the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska. [10] In June 2009, a federal ruling ordered Exxon to pay an additional US$480 million in interest on their delayed punitive damage awards. [11]

Return to service Edit

After repairs, Exxon Valdez was renamed Exxon Mediterranean, then SeaRiver Mediterranean in the early 1990s, when Exxon transferred its shipping business to a new subsidiary company, River Maritime Inc. The name was later shortened to S/R Mediterranean, then to simply Mediterranean in 2005. Although Exxon tried briefly to return the ship to its North American fleet, it was prohibited by law from returning to Prince William Sound. [12] It then served in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. [13] In 2002, the ship was again removed from service. [14] In 2005, it began operating under the Marshall Islands flag of convenience. [15] Since then, European Union regulations have also prevented vessels with single-hull designs such as the Valdez from entering European ports. [16] In early 2008, SeaRiver Maritime, an ExxonMobil subsidiary, sold Mediterranean to the Hong Kong-based shipping company, Hong Kong Bloom Shipping Ltd., which renamed the ship, once again, to Dong Fang Ocean (Chinese: 东方海 lit. 'oriental sea'), under Panama registry. In 2008, she was refitted and converted from an oil tanker to an ore carrier.

Hong Kong Bloom Shipping, is a subsidiary of Chinese Government owned company China Ocean Shipping (Group) Corporation (COSCO). [17] [ better source needed ]

Collision with MV Aali Edit

On November 29, 2010, Dong Fang Ocean collided in the South China Sea with the Malta-flagged cargo ship, Aali. Both vessels were severely damaged in the incident, and Aali was towed to Weihai and Dong Fang Ocean was towed to Longyan Port in Shandong. [18]

Retirement Edit

In March 2012, Dong Fang Ocean was purchased by Global Marketing Systems, Inc. for scrap at an estimated US$16 million and sailed under her own power to a ship breaker in Singapore. She changed hands again among scrap merchants (a common occurrence) and was eventually routed to Alang, India, under the ownership of Priya Blue Industries and at some point renamed Oriental Nicety. [19] Before being beached, some tried to halt the action, arguing that the vessel was in breach of the Basel Convention. [20] On 30 July 2012, the Supreme Court of India granted permission for the owners of Oriental Nicety to beach her at Gujarat coast to be dismantled. [21] She was then beached at Alang on 2 August 2012. [22]


Audio file: Excerpt of transcript of radio transmission recorded by the Vessel Traffic Center on March 23 and 24, 1989 relating to the grounding of the Exxon Valdez.

Movie excerpt: President of Exxon speaks to citizens of Prince William Sound immediately after the oil spill.

For more information, visit:

On March 23, 1989 the Exxon Valdez an oil supertanker operated by Exxon and under the command of Captain Joseph J. Hazelwood left the port of Valdez headed for Long beach, CA with 53,094,510 gallons of oil on board. Shortly after midnight on March 24, 1989, the supertanker collided with Bligh Reef, a well known navigation hazard, ruptured 8 of its 11 cargo tanks and spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil into the pristine waters of Prince William Sound. The result was catastrophic. Although the spill was radioed in shortly after the collision Exxon&rsquos response was slow. In fact, there was no recovery effort for three days while Exxon searched for clean up equipment. During that time millions of gallons of oil began to spread down the coast. Days later as the clean up effort began the oil slick was no longer containable. It eventually extended 470 miles to the southwest, contaminated hundreds of miles of coastline and utterly destroyed the ecosystem.

These are the well known facts of the spill but there is much more to the story. Here is the Whole Truth. The history of the spill really began back in 1973 when Congress authorized the Trans-Alaska pipeline. This allowed oil companies including Exxon to access the crude oil from Alaska&rsquos North Slope and transport it to the lower 48 states. While this meant great wealth for the oil companies it also jeopardized the waters of the Prince William Sound and the fisheries which drove the economy in the region.

Geographic Distribution of Exxon Claimants

Exxon, along with the rest of the oil industry knew that navigating a large supertanker through the icy and treacherous waters of Prince William Sound was extremely complicated. It also knew that Alaska was not equipped to contain a large oil spill. In fact the contingency plan in place at the time acknowledged that a spill over 8.4 million gallons could not be contained and would result in long term consequences. Armed with this knowledge the oil companies promised to use great care to avoid a spill.

Exxon broke that promise. Despite the risk of a spill, Exxon knowingly allowed Captain Hazelwood, a relapsed alcoholic, to command its supertanker through these treacherous waters. For nearly three years before the spill Exxon officials ignored repeated reports of Hazelwood&rsquos relapse and failed to enforce its substance abuse policies. In fact, Hazelwood was allowed to continue operating the supertanker even though his driver&rsquos license had been revoked for operating a motor vehicle under the influence.

It was no surprise that on the evening of March 23, 1989 Hazelwood visited two local bars and consumed between 5 and 9 double shots (15 to 27 ounces of 80 proof alcohol) before boarding the ship. Even though he was the only officer on board licensed to navigate through Prince William Sound, in his drunken state, he turned the helm over to a fatigued third mate who was not qualified to steer the ship. Shortly thereafter, as the Exxon Valdez picked up speed it left the shipping lanes and collided with Bligh Reef. Today the Exxon Valdez oil spill is still considered the worst oil spill in our nation&rsquos history.

The first call

Hazelwood radios in to inform the Valdez Traffic Center he has hit Bligh Reef with the ExxonValdez oil tanker.


Excerpt of transcript of radio transmission recorded by the Vessel Traffic Center, Valdez, Alaska on March 23 and 24, 1989 relating to the grounding of the Exxon Valdez.

Written transcript:

HAZELWOOD: Yeah, Valdez Traffic. EXXON VALDEZ. Over.

VTC: EXXON VALDEZ. Valdez traffic.

HAZELWOOD: Yeah. Ah, it&rsquos VALDEZ back. Ah, we&rsquove&mdash ah, should be on your radar there&mdash we&rsquove fetched up, ah, hard aground north of, ah, Good Island off Bligh Reef. And, ah, evidently, ah, leaking some oil, and, ah, we&rsquore gonna be here for a while. And, ah, if you want, ah, so you&rsquore notified. Over.

Exxon promised to make Prince William Sound whole again.

Alaska President of Exxon, Dan Cornett, spoke to the citizens of Prince William Sound and promised to make them whole. This is an excerpt of this speech, filmed during a community meeting in Prince William Sound following the oil spill."


Written transcript:

MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER 1: Is Exxon shipping company prepared to reimburse commercial fisherman for the lost income, fisheries -

DAN CORNETT: You won&rsquot have a problem. I don&rsquot care if you believe that, that&rsquos the truth. You have had some good luck and you don&rsquot realize it. You have Exxon and we do business straight.

MALE AUDIENCE MEMBER 2: Don&rsquot stand up there and lie to us.

DAN CORNETT: We will consider whatever it takes to keep you whole. Now, that&rsquos-- you have my word on that. Dan Cornett. I told you that.

1989 Exxon Valdez crashes, causing one of the worst oil spills in history

One of the worst oil spills in U.S. territory begins when the supertanker Exxon Valdez, owned and operated by the Exxon Corporation, runs aground on a reef in Prince William Sound in southern Alaska. An estimated 11 million gallons of oil eventually spilled into the water. Attempts to contain the massive spill were unsuccessful, and wind and currents spread the oil more than 100 miles from its source, eventually polluting more than 700 miles of coastline. Hundreds of thousands of birds and animals were adversely affected by the environmental disaster.

It was later revealed that Joseph Hazelwood, the captain of the Valdez, was drinking at the time of the accident and allowed an uncertified officer to steer the massive vessel. In March 1990, Hazelwood was convicted of misdemeanor negligence, fined $50,000, and ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service. In July 1992, an Alaska court overturned Hazelwood’s conviction, citing a federal statute that grants freedom from prosecution to those who report an oil spill.

Exxon itself was condemned by the National Transportation Safety Board and in early 1991 agreed under pressure from environmental groups to pay a penalty of $100 million and provide $1 billion over a 10-year period for the cost of the cleanup. However, later in the year, both Alaska and Exxon rejected the agreement, and in October 1991 the oil giant settled the matter by paying $25 million, less than 4 percent of the cleanup aid promised by Exxon earlier that year.

From the gold rush to the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the history of Alaska board games reflects the history of state

Part of a continuing weekly series on local history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.

Board games have been a part of Alaska culture for well over a century. These games have ranged from simple card games to complex simulacrums of reality. Some were designed by Alaskans. Many more were designed by residents of the smaller states and therefore more often describe Lower 48 perceptions of Alaska of what outsiders deemed important. Still, the history of Alaska-themed board games broadly reflects the history of Alaska itself, from Alaska Native interactions with whalers through the modern fish industry.

Perhaps the oldest form of board games in Alaska is cribbage, a card game typically accompanied by a board with holes. Players track their scores with pegs. Some of the first and most popular Alaska souvenirs were cribbage boards carved by Alaska Natives, often from walrus ivory.

The first wave of what a modern toy aisle shopper might recognize as a board game arrived in 1897. A bumper crop of Klondike Gold Rush games appeared on store shelves across the country with a speed that matched the rush for the goldfields. While roughly 100,000 individuals set out for the Klondike from 1896 to 1999, many times that number eagerly consumed any news or product connected to the gold fever sensation. In other words, the Klondike Gold Rush was a fad, and like any modern fad, there were fortunes to be made with tie-ins.

Speed is of the essence for those that wish to capitalize on trends. And in the haste to reach the market, the manufacturers of these gold rush games sometimes deemphasized geographical accuracy. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Horsman’s Game of Klondike. Printed in New York, the game board is a map of Alaska and western Canada. Its most notable errors include the Canadian border a couple of hundred miles farther west than it should be, a landlocked Juneau, and Dawson in British Columbia.

To win the Game of Klondike, players begin at St. Michael and navigate the Yukon River to Dawson, surviving a series of potentially deadly catastrophes along the way. While some prospectors did take this path to the Klondike, most chose the land routes via Skagway and Dyea, entry points for the White Pass and Chilkoot Trails, respectively.

/>Money from 1984 North to Alaska board game. (Photo from David Reamer collection)

Other gold rush board games released that year reflected that reality. For example, From Boston to Klondike, published by A. M. Robinson out of New Jersey, offered a longer view of the journey. As the title suggests, players roll dice to make incremental moves from Boston across the northern United States to Seattle, then turn north toward Alaska and the goldfields. From there, players jump up to Sitka, Juneau, Dyea and through the Chilkoot Pass into Canada.

The mechanics for Klondyke Game Company’s Going to Klondyke game favored a party atmosphere. Like most Alaska-themed board games, the board was a map, this one featuring concentric rings centered on Dawson and spreading out over Alaska. Various-sized claims and gold nuggets fill the rings. The map was hung on a wall, and blindfolded players spun and stuck a pin in the map. In the best-case scenario, players landed directly in Dawson or on a large gold nugget. In the worst-case scenario, players landed in Siberia and lost all their winnings, “since the (Russian) government is supposed to appropriate all mineral wealth to its use.”

The busy design hides several lessons on the harsh realities of the gold rush. A fresh grave stands in for the thousands who lost their lives during the stampede. And near the Alaska-Canada border, a man hangs from a tree. The sudden influx of prospectors stretched law enforcement far past the breaking point and led to frequent mob justice, including lynchings.

As the Klondike and subsequent gold rushes faded, so did the production of board games attempting to tap into the mystique of Alaska. The decades-long lull in Alaska-themed gaming mirrored the economic doldrums and stagnant development of Alaska, especially between World War I and II.

By the late 1930s, Alaska advocates openly begged for a new wave of settlers that might promote renewed investment in the territorial infrastructure and thus spur the economy. A 1940 Seward Gateway editorial declared, “With the coming of more people it will be found that insistent demands for more roads and other improvements will grow less. They will not be necessary as they will come naturally with the advent of population.” Anthony Dimond, Alaska’s non-voting representative to Congress from 1933 to 1945, was more direct in a 1939 letter. He wrote, “Alaska needs people,” and that development required the territory’s population to “be in accord with its vast area and unquestionably large natural resources.”

The 1943 Klondike Gold game from Corey Game Co. was an exception to this fallow period of Alaska-themed board games. A sentimental callback to the 1890s rather than a representation of 1940s Alaska, it spotlights the journey from Skagway to Dawson. Soapy Smith’s saloon, the notorious criminal’s headquarters, is featured on the Skagway waterfront. Nuggets: The Rush to the Klondike was released in 1937 within the same nostalgia cycle. However, this game ignores Alaska to focus on the Yukon.

World War II and increased federal spending in Alaska created the desired population and financial boom. And statehood brought Alaska back to some measure of board game relevance. After 1959, Alaska had to be included in any product meant to cover all the states in the union.

A prominent example of Alaska inclusion was the frequently updated Games of the States from Milton Bradley. Alaska’s representation in the game is minimal, a small game card. A circa 1960 example notes “no official nickname.” If you are wondering about the “Last Frontier,” that slogan did not garner any official recognition until 1978, when it was selected in a statewide contest to appear on license plates. Christie Lou Nusbaum, a 17-year-old Juneau resident, received a $500 scholarship for her winning submission.

As with nearly every other aspect of life in Alaska, the discovery and exploitation of oil changed the nature of Alaska board games. In particular, the debate over the environmental impact of what would become the Trans Alaska Pipeline, which intensified in the early 1970s, influenced a new wave of Alaska-themed board games.

/>Three Alaska / oil-themed board games. Photographed May 20, 2021. (Anne Raup / ADN) />Alaska Oil Game. Photographed May 20, 2021. (Anne Raup / ADN) />Alaska Pipeline: The Energy Crisis Game. Photographed May 20, 2021. (Anne Raup / ADN)

In 1973, Armond Kirschbaum released Alaska Pipeline: The Energy Crisis game amid that year’s oil crisis. An oil embargo enacted by the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) sparked severe gas shortages and price spikes across America. The game’s objective is to refute pipeline criticisms and circle a map of Alaska while using the least amount of gas ration coupons. The game was re-released in 1993 in the wake of the First Gulf War.

The game is blatantly pro-pipeline propaganda. Players are dealt cards from four suits: anti-pipeline “objections,” pro-pipeline “facts,” pro-oil trivia, and public impact cards. The game mechanics are a slightly more complicated version of hearts. A professor delivers the facts, but the objections feature a caricature of a nosy older woman, her tiny hat topped by a flower. On one of her cards, she holds a sign stating, “Objection for objection’s sake.” One of the pro-oil trivia cards declares, “the dinosaur died for nothing” if gas stations closed.

The game’s bias is best illustrated via concerns for the Prince William Sound. An objection card, with its comical pipeline foe, says, “Tankers will pollute Valdez Harbor.” The professor says in response, “Modern equipment and strict regulations against oily discharge.” Unfortunately, history did not side with the professor.

The Alaska Oil Game, by Theme Games of Saratoga, California, is less blatant in its advocacy. The game was released in 1978, the year after the pipeline was completed. Players maneuver oil barrel-shaped markers from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez via the pipeline directly or a more circuitous route per randomly drawn cards. Still, cards that favored nature, such as ordering an environmental survey, cause adverse outcomes for players.

At least three board games were published in response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Richard Lynn, a Valdez bartender, created Oil on the Rocks: The Great Alaska Oil Spill. Players cleaned the oily shores, navigating the Prince William Sound with an actual rock from the region. The game cost $16.69, the hourly rate for Exxon’s cleanup workers.

The most difficult oil spill game, one of the most challenging games in this article, is the 1990 Oil Spill from Newhagy, Inc. Players navigate metal oil tanker tokens up the Sound to Valdez, then back out to oil refineries at the other end of the map. Players must avoid not only reefs and ice floes but oil pirates as well.

By the 1980s, Alaska board games had begun to diversify beyond natural resource themes, to more accurately reflect the disparate interests of Alaskans themselves. An early exemplar of this period is the simply titled Alaska, released by Ravensburger in 1979 and re-released in 1980. Players battle polar bears, frostbite and the changing seasons while attempting to recover needed supplies.

Though dated, the Alaska Game of Trivia, released by Teddy’s Toys and Co. in 1985, is the deepest dive into Alaska trivia. Some of the questions are simple enough for even moderately tenured residents. For example, “what is fireweed?” and “what is a ‘white out’?” are easy enough. Other questions are true stumpers. What type of person, off the top of their head, knows “how many miles are there from Nome to Washington, D.C. by dog sled?”

The Perfect Storm: Alaska, from NKSN Games circa 2014, is the rare board game acknowledgment of Alaska’s fishing industry. Players set out from Dutch Harbor with an inexperienced captain and crew, slowly gaining skill and money that can lead to better crews and larger boats. Wind and waves are factors. During storms, boats risk capsizing.

Of course, the nostalgia for the gold rush is still well represented in modern Alaska board games, including the 1991 Alaskan Gold Rush, 1992 Klondike: Trivia Game on the Yukon, 2014 Lost Valley: The Yukon Gold Rush 1896, and the 2017 Klondike Rush.

The most unavoidable Alaska board games are the many official Alaska Monopoly variants, including Monopoly: Alaska Edition, Monopoly: Alaska’s Iditarod, and Monopoly Junior: Trek Alaska. Other Alaska-themed board games have built upon the Monopoly design, including Alaska-Opoly, Fairbanks-Opoly, and the Game of Palmer Alaska. Several of the Monopoly-style Alaska games have been updated or reprinted.

This article is not an exhaustive list of Alaska-themed board games. Numerous other obscure, niche, and hidden gems lie hidden in antique shops and on eBay. Some of the most notable of these other games include the 1897 Klondike Puzzle, 1898 Seal Hunting in Alaska, 1983-1984 North to Alaska, 1984 Alaska!, circa 1989 Great Alaskan Clean-Up, 1992 Ultimate Route, and the 2006 Alaska Dyke Life. Perhaps a dusty, nearly forgotten gem is in your closet right now.

Dimond, Anthony. Anthony Dimond to James M. Mead, October 9, 1939. Series 3, Subseries 2, Box 39, Folder 353, Ernest H. Gruening Papers, Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives, University of Alaska Fairbanks.

“From Board Games to Cookbooks, How the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Infiltrated Pop Culture.” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Response and Restoration, July 22, 2015.

Watch the video: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill: In the Wake of Disaster. Retro Report. The New York Times