x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Exxon Valdez sets course for scrap yard

The Exxon Valdez, perhaps the most infamous oil tanker of all time for its involvement in the spilling of crude oil in Alaska in the 1980s, has been sold for scrap.

The oil tanker Exxon Valdez, which ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound in 1989, has been sold for $15.8 million. Chris Walkins / AFP
The oil tanker Exxon Valdez, which ran aground on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound in 1989, has been sold for $15.8 million. Chris Walkins / AFP

The Exxon Valdez, perhaps the most infamous oil tanker of all time for its involvement in the spilling of crude oil all over Alaska's pristine Prince William Sound in the late 1980s, has been sold for scrap.

In the spring of 1989, televisions around the world showed endless footage of sea birds and seals floundering in black, viscous crude after the 213,800-tonnevery large crude carrier ripped a hole in its hull on Bligh Reef in the sound, disgorging 32 million gallons of her cargo.

The accident caused what was then the worst environmental disaster in US history, surpassed now only by BP's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010. The Exxon Valdez spill caused an estimated US$15 billion (Dh55bn) of damage and prompted a fundamental rethinking of tanker design.

Since the disaster, the ship's name has been changed five times and it has sailed under two flags of convenience - the Marshall Islands and Panama - and been involved in a major collision at sea. Several years after the disaster, it was prohibited by law from re-entering Prince William Sound when Exxon tried to return it to work in US waters.

Bought in 2007 by Cosco,a Chinese shipping company, it was renamed the Dong Fang and converted into a bulk carrier.

Now, in its final guise as the Oriental Nicety, it has been sold to ship demolition brokers GMC for $15.8 million, and its final voyage will be to a breakers' yard in India.

ExxonMobil, the largest US oil company, spent three years and $3.86bn to clean up the Prince William Sound spill, which damaged 700 miles of coastline and killed more than 36,000 birds, according to the US environmental protection agency.

And Exxon still faces litigation from the accident. In 2009, it agreed to pay $470m of interest on a $507.5m judgement won by local victims, including fishermen and small businesses, in addition to a $900m civil settlement. Last month, a judge ruled that the US federal government and the Alaskan state government could seek further damages.

The ship also made a Hollywood appearance: in the 1995 post-apocalyptic science fiction film Waterworld, the Exxon Valdezsurvives in a future where the ice caps have melted and flooded the Earth. It has become a floating base for a pirate gang. It explodes and sinks at the end of the film.

dblack@thenational.ae

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