Today’s Illustration: What A Mess!

valdez cleaning rocks  30 Years Later!

On This Day:  March 24, 1989 — The “Exxon Valdez” oil tanker strikes the Bligh Reef off of Alaska and spills thousands upon thousands of crude oil into Prince William Sound.

It is considered to be one of the worst human-caused environmental disasters of all time.


Facts & Information:

Where: Prince William Sound, Alaska

March 23, 1989 — the Valdez was load with 53 million gallons of oil at the Valdez pipeline terminal.  It was the 28th fill at Valdez since 1986.

The pipeline runs 800 miles across Alaska to the Valdez pipeline port, which is the only means of bringing the oil to a shipping port (trans-Alaskan oil pipeline — finished in 1977 — carries 2 million barrels a day).

The tanker was headed to Long Beach, California.

Oil Tanker: Exxon Valdez, carrying 53 million gallons of crude oil — a 987-foot tanker

Captain:  Joseph Hazlewood — some alleged that he was “drunk.”

“The captain was seen in a local bar and admitted to having some alcoholic drinks. A blood test showed alcohol in his blood even several hours after the accident. The captain has always insisted that he was not impaired by alcohol. The state charged him with operating a vessel while under the influence of alcohol. A jury in Alaska, however, found him NOT GUILTY of that charge. The jury did find him guilty of negligent discharge of oil, a misdemeanor. Hazelwood was fined $50,000 and sentenced to one thousand hours of community service in Alaska. Hazelwood completed the community service ahead of schedule in 2001. He picked up trash along the Seward Highway and worked at Bean’s Café, a facility for the homeless in Anchorage.” — evostc


“Hazelwood was acquitted of felony charges. He was convicted of a single charge of misdemeanor negligence, fined $50,000, and ordered to perform 1,000 hours of community service.” — history

Captain Hazlewood had been instructed to leave the outbound shipping land, to avoid icebergs.

Hazlewood had left the third mate in command of the ship, not the first time the third mate had done that — The third made had done this approximately 25 times before this disaster

“This is not a sports car you’re driving.  This is a 200,000 deadweight ton tanker.  And when you give a rudder command or an engine command  — it doesn’t instantly change.”  — John Harrald

It was traveling at 12 knots when it failed to make the turn and ran full aground.

8 of the 11 cargo tanks were torn open.

Accident: Struck the Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef

The Spill: 10.8 million gallons of crude oil — equal of 17 Olympic sized swimming pools.

Most of the oil was spilled in the first six hours.

Three days after the accident, a storm blew in and spread the oil even further.

“Spring Tides” carried it even further upon the beaches.

It is now the second worst oil spill.  The Deep Horizon oil spill in 2010 is now first.

The oil slick covered 1300 miles of the coastline.

Less than 10% of the spilled oil was recovered.

Thousands of sea animals were killed: seabirds, otters, seals, and whales.
“The best estimates are: 250,000 seabirds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 250 bald eagles, up to 22 killer whales, and billions of salmon and herring eggs.”

Exxon hired people to walk the beaches, clean a rock, place it back, and move on to the next rock.  The result was that the tides brought in new oil and the rocks were covered with oil again.

The “Exxon Valdez” was returned to service, but it operated under a different name.

The Exxon Mediterranean
then — The SeaRiver Mediterranean
then — The Oriental Nicety — operating in Asia since they allow single hulls


Believed Causes:

The “third mate” was given the responsibility for maneuvering the ship and failed in the carrying out of his responsibilities.

Engineering:  The Exxon Valdez was a tanker made of a single hull carrying a massive amount of oil.  Later ships were made with a double-hull (By 2015 all oil tankers were double-hulled — with a 10-foot space between hulls.).

Exxon failed to oversee the captain of the ship and provide both a “rested” and did not have a sufficient crew — They were operating on a 50% reduction in crew size.

The Exxon Valdez did not an adequate radar system.  The  “Raytheon Collison Avoidance System” was not capable of detecting and informing the third mate that the ship was on course to hit the Bligh Reef.

The Inadequate Spill Response:  There were no adequate plans to address such a situation.

“Environmental officials purposefully left some areas of shoreline untreated so they could study the effect of cleanup measures, some of which were unproven at the time. They later found that aggressive washing with high-pressure, hot water hoses was effective in removing oil, but did even more ecological damage by killing the remaining plants and animals in the process.

One of those areas that was oiled but never cleaned is a large shoreline boulder called Mearn’s Rock. Scientists have returned to Mearn’s Rock every summer since the spill to photograph the plants and small critters growing on it. They found that many of the mussels, barnacles and various seaweeds growing on the rock before the spill returned to normal levels about three to four years after the spill.  “– history

The Alyeska Pipeline Service response barge was out of order and could not be used.

The location of the disaster made it difficult to reach.

And last of all . . . . . They never thought it would happen!**


Key Illustrative Thoughts:

• never thought it would happen
• unprepared
•  accidents happen
• drunk / alcohol
• new laws — response to problems
• a storm which came at the worst time
• contributing factors
• it’s not a sports car
• it takes time to turn
• made it worse (“hot water”)
• single hull – no margin
• no margin for error
• collision
• leadership
• what a mess
• “response barge”  – not available
• just change the name
• “less than 10% recovered” — sometimes in life, it is even less
• disaster
• “I’m sorry” *
• complacency
• neglect
• fair warning
• putting off disaster planning
• cleaning rocks – in vain & in life

Other Information & Links:

* “ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Joe Hazelwood, captain of the doomed oil tanker Exxon Valdez, is offering “a very heartfelt apology” to Alaskans for the disastrous 1989 oil spill in Prince William Sound.

The apology comes at the end of a new, 288-page book commemorating the 20th anniversary of the spill. The book features 62 “personal stories” from people involved with the spill, from people aboard the tanker to Alaska politicians to cleanup workers to U.S. Coast Guard officers to reporters who covered one of the state’s biggest stories.” — cleveland


“The Spill: Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster” by Stan Jones —
A Warning for Future Generations: Twenty years after the Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef, sixty-two men and women share personal stories of what they saw, how they reacted, and how they coped with North America s worst tanker oil spill. Their anger and anguish had receded from view like oil seeping into rocky crevices on the beaches of Prince William Sound, but the terrible memories were never far from the surface. The stories tell of a shockingly slow response, the struggle to save the stricken tanker, the often heroic but largely futile efforts to limit the spread of oil and clean the beaches, a heart-breaking loss of fish and wildlife, a crippling blow to the commercial fishing industry, lingering social problems, and a loss of innocence among Alaskans who believed this spill would never happen*. Reliving their experiences are fishermen, Native villagers, biologists, environmentalists, sociologists, Exxon executives, the governor, mayors, journalists, workers who washed oily rocks even the skipper of the ill-fated ship. For many of them, as one sociologist put it, the only way the Exxon Valdez disaster will end is when they die. For the rest of us, the spill is a cautionary tale about the high cost of complacency and neglect, and fair warning of the perils of putting off disaster planning for another day. One day, tomorrow will be too late.

“The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill” — l by Peter Benoit

Book: “The Spill: Personal Stories from the Exxon Valdez Disaster”

Book: “Spill:  The Story of the Exxon Valdez” by Terry Carr



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