Captain Joseph Jeffrey Hazelwood, the Master of the crude oil tanker EXXON VALDEZ when she ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound near Valdez, Alaska on 24th March 1989, has passed away at the age of 75. The EXXON VALDEZ spill is the second largest in U.S. waters, after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, in terms of volume of oil released.
Captain Hazelwood was acquitted at trial of felony charges related to the accident, including operating a vessel while intoxicated. He was found guilty of a misdemeanour charge of negligently discharging oil and sentenced to a $50,000 fine and 1,000 hours of community service. His Coast Guard-issued Master Mariners license was suspended for a brief time but never revoked. However, he never returned to sailing following the accident. He was not on the bridge at the time of the accident. An investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) determined the probable cause of the grounding was the failure of the third mate to properly manoeuvre the vessel because of fatigue and excessive workload and the master’s failure to provide a proper navigation watch due to alcohol impairment. Exxon Shipping Company, an Exxon Corporation subsidiary, also failed to provide a fit master and a rested and sufficient crew. The NTSB also found a lack of effective Vessel Traffic Service and pilotage services.
In 1991, a U.S. District Court in Anchorage accepted guilty pleas from Exxon Corporation and Exxon Shipping Company, including a $150 million criminal fine, the largest fine ever imposed at the time for an environmental crime, of which $125 million was remitted in recognition of Exxon’s cooperation during the clean up and paying certain private claims. Exxon also agreed to criminal restitution of $100 million and a civil settlement of $900 million.
Captain Hazelwood, a 1968 graduate of SUNY Maritime College, was born on September 24, 1946. A source close to his family confirms Hazelwood passed away peacefully last Thursday 21st July on Long Island. No additional details were available.
Captain Hazelwood recalled the accident in 2014 in a story for CNN:
In 1993 the tanker was renamed to S/R MEDITERRANEAN (S/R stands for SeaRiver Maritime Inc) still homeported in USA and during 1994 she called at Malta Drydocks for minor repairs berthing at Parlatorio Wharf.
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Published – Saturday 23rd July, 2022.