Friday, March 27, 2009

20th anniversary of Exxon Valdez disaster

On Tuesday of this week an important anniversary went by almost unnoticed on this side of the globe at any rate. Friday, 24th March 1989 is a day that will never be forgotten by the fishing communities of Alaska and many places further afield. It was the day the Exxon Valdez went aground in Prince William Sound. A documentary was shown on television last night which revisited the awful devastation caused to wildlife and to the livelihoods of thousands of people.

It is estimated that around 10.8 million US gallons (9 million Imperial gallons or 40.9 million litres) poured into the sea when the Exxon Valdez went aground. This caused devastation on a scale never seen before and hopefully never again. Before the disaster the area was rich with a diverse spread of marine life and an important fishery for the local population.

One of the most appalling aspects of the disaster was the way in which the Exxon oil company, who were responsible for the disaster, used their expensively bought public relations to turn around the situation. They also exacerbated the damage by using large jets of boiling water to clean rocks and beaches. This had the effect of practically sterilizing the area and killing whatever tiny aquatic creatures and seaweed that remained.

Incredibly the Exxon Valdez is still in service and this brings me back to my pet subject - the outrage of Flags of Convenience. The Exxon Valdez is now known as the Dong Fang Ocean and carries metal ore rather than oil but the fact that this ship is still in service at all is very disturbing. After the disaster the ship was patched up and remained in service, undergoing a number of name changes along the way - you know the type - where Windscale becomes Sellafield or Long Kesh become HMP Maze. Well the Exxon Valdez is still plying the high seas under a flag of conveniencee - in this case Panama. Thankfully she is banned from European Union waters because she doesn't have a double hull - something only brought in after the Exxon Valdez disaster.

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