26 Images of The Exxon Valdez Environmental Disaster of 1989


The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, March 24, 1989 when Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef. The tanker spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil over the next few days. The location of the spill, accessible only by helicopter, plane, or boat, made government and industry response efforts difficult. The oil slick eventually covered 1,300 miles of coastline and 11,000 square miles of ocean.

Exxon Shipping Company failed to supervise the Captain and provide a rested and sufficient crew for the ship. The third mate failed to properly maneuver the ship, possibly due to fatigue and excessive workload. The Exxon Shipping Company also failed to properly maintain the Raytheon Collision Avoidance System radar, which would have indicated to the third mate of an impending collision (a theory of Greg Palast, a writer and Journalist, which is not in the official accident report).

Captain Joseph Hazelwood, who was widely reported to have been drinking heavily, was not at the helm when the ship struck the reef. However, being the senior officer, he was in command even though he was asleep in his bunk.

The immediate effects included the deaths of as many as 250,000 seabirds, at least 2,800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles, 22 orcas, and an unknown number of salmon and herring. Only 10% of the total oil was completely cleaned. In 2014, federal scientists estimated that between 16,000 and 21,000 US gallons (61 to 79 m3) of oil remains on beaches in Prince William Sound and up to 450 miles (725 km) away.

The damaged oil tanker Exxon Valdez, towed out of Alaska’s Prince William Sound by a tugboat and a U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, on June 23, 1989. The Atlantic
The Exxon Baton Rouge (smaller ship on left) attempts to offload crude oil from the Exxon Valdez after the Valdez ran aground in Prince William sound near Valdez, Alaska, on March 26, 1989. The Atlantic
Sea lions swim in the southern bay of Naked Island as the crippled oil tanker Exxon Valdez sits at anchor in Prince William Sound on April 12, 1989. AP Photo
Spilled oil from the grounded Exxon Valdez spreads into Prince William Sound. Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council
A DC-6 plane sprays chemical dispersants on the oil spilled from the tanker Exxon Valdez on March 27, 1989. AP Photo
An oil slick swirls over Prince William Sound, Alaska, on April 2, 1989, about 50 miles from where the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground. AP Photo
A clean-up worker rakes through crude oil, contained by floating booms off the waters of Prince William Sound on April 16, 1989. AP Photo
A cleanup worker walks through the oily surf at Naked Island on Prince Williams Sound on April 2, 1989, as early beach cleanup efforts take place in the background, a week after the spill. Getty Images
On his hands and knees, a member of the cleanup crew scrubs oil soaked rocks on Naked Island on April 2 1989. Reuters
A cleanup worker uses high pressure, high temperature water to wash crude oil off the rocky shore of Block Island on April 17, 1989. AP Photo
U.S. Navy LCM’s (Landing Craft Mechanized) anchored off Smith Island, Alaska, on May 11, 1989 provide steam to enhance clean up following the oil spill. AP Photo
A fisherman inspects a dead California gray whale covered in oil from the Valdez spill on the northern shore of Latoucha Island, Alaska. CNN