"Prince William Sound, which sits at the northernmost part of the Gulf
of Alaska, defines the water border of the Chugach National Forest. Established by Teddy Roosevelt in 1907, it is next in size only to the Tongass National Forest—the largest in the nation—which, along with the
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, forms a crescent along the south central
and south east coasts of Alaska. In March 1989, the beauty and biota of Prince William Sound were seriously damaged by the Exxon Valdez oil spill then the largest in North American waters. " (3).
Joseph Hazelwood—who became infamous on the night of March 24th 1989, when the ship he commanded, the Exxon Valdez, ran aground— started to make restitution by spending the summe of 1999 and the next four summers collecting rubbish from city streets and state lands. (The Economist, Mar 18th 1999). The captain had been convicted of misdemeanour negligence, fined $50,000, and sentenced to serve 1,000 hours of community service. The grounding of the Exxon Valdez is deemed to have been one of the worst environmental disasters in US-American history. In the days after the ship gored itself on Bligh Reef, near the oil-terminal town of Cordova in the vast Gulf of Alaska, nearly 11 m gallons of crude oil spilled from its hull. By the time a containment effort was under way, a storm had helped to spread oil as much as three feet thick across 1,400 miles of beaches. A quarter of a million sea birds and millions of fish died. In the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the U.S. Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which President George H.W. Bush signed into law that year. The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 increased penalties for companies responsible for oil spills and required that all oil tankers in United States waters have a double hull. Exxon Valdez was a single-hulled tanker; a double-hull design, by making it less likely that a collision would have spilled oil, might have prevented the Exxon Valdez disaster. The Exxon Valdez was repaired and ended its life in Asia, being dismantled in Alang, Gujarat.
Compared to other oil spills (Torrey Canyon, Amoco Cadiz and others), this was relatively small. Also compared to terrestrial oil spills in Ecuador by Chevron-Texaco and in Nigeria by Shell. The Exxon Valdez had left the Valdez Oil Terminal in Alaska at 9:12 p.m. on March 23, 1989, bound for Long Beach, California. One of the harbor pilots guided the vessel before abandoning ship and returning control to Hazelwood, the ship's captain. The vessel maneuvered off the route, in order to avoid the collision with the icebergs. After the maneuver and shortly after 11:00 p.m., Hazelwood left the command bridge. He left two crew members to take of the ship, which was on autopilot. The route was covered by icebergs so the captain had requested permission from the coast guard to exit through the entrance route. When the Exxon Valdez passed Busby Island, the third assistant ordered the rudder to starboard, did not notice that the autopilot was still connected and the ship did not turn. He kept advancing through the canal, disregarding the lights marking the reef, but he did not change or verify his previous orders. Finally he noticed that they had advanced a lot through the channel, disconnected the autopilot and strove to get the huge ship back on track. Too late. On March 24, 1989, at about 00:04, the Exxon Valdez hit the coral reef known as Bligh Reef, located in Prince William Sound and spilled about 10.8 million gallons of crude oil (about 40.9 million liters, some 37,000 tons).
The remote location of the accident in Prince William Sound made reaction difficult. There was a grave threat to the delicate food chain that underpinned Prince William Sound's professional fishing industry. Ten million migratory birds and waterfowl, hundreds of sea otters and dozens of other shore species such as porpoises, sea lions and various varieties of whales were also endangered. (EPA Exxon Valdez Spill Profile ). (1). (https://www.epa.gov/history/epa-history-exxon-valdez-oil-spill).
. 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.
Since the date of the spill, Exxon spent approximately $2.2 billion to clean up Prince William sound and the Gulf of Alaska. Cleaning included the containment of oil using booms, skimming oil from the surface of the water, mobilizing thousands of workers to conduct excavation of contaminated beaches, high pressure water washing of beaches, and rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife fouled by oil.
On February 27, 1990, Exxon Shipping Co. and Exxon Corp. were each indicted by a federal Grand Jury in Alaska. Both were charged with one misdemeanor violation of the Clean Water Act, one misdemeanor violation of the Refuse Act, one misdemeanor violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, one felony violation of the Ports and Waterways Act, and one felony violation of the Dangerous Cargo Act. According to the plea agreement, Exxon Shipping will plead guilty to three misdemeanors and Exxon Corporation will plead guilty to one misdemeanor.
An EPA Press release of 13 March 1991 (1) declared that Exxon would settle all federal and state civil claims resulting from the Exxon Valdez oil spill on March 24, 1989, by the payment of $900 million in damages. . "More than 700 miles of Alaska shoreline were covered with crude oil spilling from the Exxon Valdez when it ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989. Approximately 11 million gallons of crude oil spilled from the Valdez fouling the waters and shorelines of both National Wildlife Refuges and National Parks. As a result, more than 36,000 migratory birds, including at least 100 bald eagles along with numerous other varieties of wildlife, were killed.