Labor History in 2:00

March 24 Exxon Valdez Runs Aground

March 24, 2017

On this day in labor history, the year was 1989.

That was the day the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled 10.8 million gallons of oil in Prince William’s Sound, off the coast of Alaska.

The ship ran aground and collided with Bligh’s Reef.

Most people remember the captain was held primarily responsible for the spill.

By his own admission, he had passed out after a night of heavy drinking.

But a number of factors also contributed to the environmental disaster.  

The National Transportation Safety Board issued its final report over a year later.

In it, the Board concluded that fatigue, reduced crews and problems with regulations and procedures regarding Exxon’s drug and alcohol program, all contributed to the spill.

Union officials reported great concern regarding chronic fatigue of its members on merchant ships, reduced crews due to greater automation and reduced scheduled ship maintenance.

Crewmembers on the Exxon Valdez routinely worked 20 or more hours a day during routine cargo handling operations.

The NTSB also concluded that Vessel Traffic Service under the U.S. Coast Guard failed to properly track the Exxon Valdez.

They had the ability to select a higher radar scale but didn’t.

The Coast Guard suffered from reduced crews burdened with increased job duties as well.

They also found that remote communications sites were inoperative on the night of the spill.

The equipment was old, deteriorating from harsh weather conditions.

Requested funding for new equipment had not been forthcoming. 

The Alyeska Pipeline Company for its part, failed to have an oil spill barge loaded and ready.

Major cleanup efforts were conducted during spring and summer months through 1992.

But marine life and the environments were devastated.

Long-term efforts at monitoring and cleanup continue today.

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