On March 24, 1989, Exxon Valdez was sailing outside the normal sea lane to avoid small icebergs thought to be in the area.
The tanker struck Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef, a few miles west of Tatitlek, Alaska.
Although Captain Joseph Hazelwood was accused of being “drunk at the wheel” he actually wasn’t on duty at the time.
In fact, the tanker's radar had been left broken and disabled for more than a year before the disaster, and Exxon management knew it.
10.8 million US gallons of crude oil were spilled into the water over the next few days.
The remote 200-mile region’s habitat for salmon, sea otters, seals and seabirds was devastated with the oil-slicked mess that flowed into their areas.
A jury in Anchorage, Alaska, blamed the recklessness by Exxon and Captain Joseph Hazelwood for the Exxon Valdez disaster. This jury, in the case of Exxon v. Baker, awarded $287 million for damages and $5 billion for punitive damages.
To protect itself in case the judgment was affirmed, Exxon had obtained a $4.8 billion credit line from J.P. Morgan & Co.
After multiple appeals the Supreme Court cut the punitive damages award to $507.5 million. Additionally, Exxon shouldered the cost of the cleanup.
In response to the spill, the United States Congress passed the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA).
Besides the immense loss of animal life and continuing natural effects, Exxon Valdez oil spill costs exceeded $7 billion. The effects of the spill are still felt in the region, where the oil has not completely