Joseph Hazelwood, captain of the Exxon Valdez disaster, died at age 75

The Long Island-based captain of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker that ran aground off Alaska in 1989 and caused one of the worst environmental disasters in the country’s history has reportedly died.

Joseph Hazelwood, who lived in Huntington, died in July at the age of 75 after battling cancer and COVID-19, according to the New York Times.

The Exxon Valdez crashed on Alaska’s Bligh Reef on March 24, 1989, pumping approximately 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound.

An organization tasked with assessing the impact of the crash found that it devastated wildlife in the area, killing nearly a quarter of a million seabirds — along with 22 killer whales and 250 bald eagles.

John Hazelwood
Former Exxon Valdez captain Joseph Hazelwood listens to testimony related to the ship’s massive oil spill during his trial.
Bettmann Archive

Hazelwood was charged with reckless endangerment, operating a ship while intoxicated, and negligently discharging oil after the crash.

Some witnesses said they saw him drinking vodka at the ship’s bar before the accident, while others did not recall him looking drunk or erratic.

Hazelwood was eventually found guilty of negligently dumping oil into state waters and was cleared of more serious charges.

Exxon Valdez recovery
Salvage teams retrieve dead sea otters along Green Island, Alaska, following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, the worst oil spill in US history.
Bettmann Archive

He was sentenced to pay $50,000 in damages and 1,000 hours of community service.

An Alaskan jury awarded more than 30,000 plaintiffs injured in the 1994 accident $5 billion in damages. The U.S. Supreme Court later lowered that number to $507 million in 2008.

The disaster led to the passage of the 1990 Oil Spill Act, which gave officers more powers to respond to major oil spills.

Exxon Valdez tanker near Naked Island
Crude oil from the Exxon Valdez tanker swirls across the surface of Alaska’s Prince William Sound near Naked Island on April 9, 1989.
AP Joseph Hazelwood, captain of the Exxon Valdez disaster, died at age 75


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