On March 23rd, 1989, the Exxon Valdez, a supertanker owned by the Exxon Shipping Company pulled away from the Valdez Marine Terminal at 9:12 pm bound for Long Beach California.
At 12:04 am on March 24th, with Captain Hazelwood retired to his cabin and the Third Mate in control of the wheelhouse, the tanker grounded on Bligh Reef outside of the narrows. The momentum carried the huge ship high atop a rock pinnacle during which time 8 of the 11 holds were punctured. The ship would initially spill 5.8 million gallons of its 53 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound. For 45 minutes Captain Hazelwood attempted to free the vessel from the reef and in the coming days that spill would increase to 10.8 million gallons.
Tides and currents would disperse the oil spill until it covered over 1,300 miles of coastline in Prince William Sound, on Kodiak Island, and the Alaska Peninsula. The spill would kill an estimated 250,000 seabirds,2,800 sea otter, 300 harbor seals and billions of salmon and herring.
Blame for the spill was aimed at Captain Hazelwood, who was in his quarters sleeping off the effects of alcohol from the night before. But, it would be found that the RAYCAS radar was not on as it had been disabled for over a year and not repaired.
Cleanup would continue for decades. It is estimated that decades later as much as 21,000 gallons of crude oil remains on the beaches of Prince William Sound and the outlying areas.
Captain Hazelwood would be convicted of misdemeanor negligent discharge of oil in 1990.