Ships 2

Exxon Valdez

Ships 3

Exxon Valdez

The Infamous Exxon Valdez Is No More

By James Donahue

The massive 980-foot supertanker Exxon Valdez, the ship that grounded off Alaska and drenched the beaches there with crude oil in 1989, now sits in a ship demolition yard in India, waiting for its final fate.

After only 26 years on the high seas, the tanker seemed so cursed following the Alaskan disaster that even changing its name failed to erase the sense among seafarers that this was a hard-luck ship.

The Exxon Valdez was only three years old when it slammed into the rocks in Prince William Sound while on its way from the oil pipeline at Valdez, Alaska to Long Beach, California, on March 24. The hull was torn open and an estimated 32,000,000 gallons of crude oil, now the second largest spill in U. S. history, and literally destroyed the natural habitat for wildlife and slammed the local fishing industry. In spite of years of cleanup, the area remains saturated in crude oil to this day.

The owners of the ship, Exxon Mobil went through years of litigation and ended up paying a settlement of $507.5 million in damages plus another $480 million in interest on delayed punitive damage awards. A jury originally awarded plaintiffs $5 billion in punitive damages and another $287 million in compensatory damages.

The captain of the ship, Joseph J. Hazelwood, was accused of being drunk at the time of the wreck. During the charge he was cleared of the charge, although Hazelwood was found to be a confirmed alcoholic. He was fired from his job, convicted of a misdemeanor charge of negligent discharge of oil, fined $50,000 and sentenced to 1,000 hours of community service.

The ship was salvaged and repaired, then renamed Exxon Mediterranean. Exxon tried to return the vessel to its North American fleet, but was prohibited by law from returning to the Alaskan route. Thus it worked in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. In 1990 Exxon transferred the company’s shipping business to a subsidiary named River Marine Inc. Thus the Exxon Valdez took on a series of new names that included SeaRiver Mediterranean, later S/R Mediterranean, and finally Mediterranean. But the stigma of the vessel that caused what was then the greatest oil spill in history could not be shaken.

In 2005 the vessel was prohibited from entering European ports because of its single-hull design, which made another major oil spill possible in the event of a second wreck. In 2008 the ship was sold to Hong Kong Bloom Shipping Ltd., which renamed the ship Dong Fang Ocean and operated it under a Panama registry. At that time it was converted from an oil tanker to an ore carrier.

It was a fortunate conversion because in 2010 the Dong Fang Ocean was in a collision with the cargo ship Aali in the South China Sea. Both ships were extensively damaged. After that, Dong Fang Ocean was purchased by Global Marketing Systems for scrap and removed to Singapore. It was sold again to Priya Blue Industries of India and renamed Oriental Nicety while awaiting scrapping.

There was one final problem. The possibility that the ship contained asbestos and other toxins stirred a court order that prevented the ship from being beached. The litigation was resolved and the massive but battered and rusted Exxon Valdez now lies beached at Alang, awaiting the scrapper’s torches.

A lot of folks along the oil soaked Alaskan coast may be glad to see that old ship go.

Aground And Leaking Oil