Exxon Valdez: The Big Spill

Bred from complacency, the Valdez fiasco goes from bad to worse to worst possible

A captain with too much alcohol in his blood turns over command of his tanker to an unqualified third mate. The mate shouts contradictory orders to the helmsman and eventually impales the vessel on a reef, causing millions of gallons of oil to gush from the mangled hull. Companies that boasted they had the equipment and manpower in place for a quick cleanup turn out to have hardly anything available and lose irreplaceable days getting into action. Then, almost predictably, the calm weather gives way to high winds that render their efforts ineffective.

By midweek Exxon, owner of the wounded tanker,...

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