What do you do when your name becomes linked with one of the most horrific environmental disasters in American history - and no one wants you around anymore?
In the case of the Exxon Valdez, arguably the most famous ship of modern times, you move and you change your name.
Twenty-three years after the oil supertanker became synonymous with what its Irving-based owner at the time calls "one of the lowest points in ExxonMobil's 125-year history," the ship is slated for the scrap heap.
After six name changes and several ownership shuffles - and a 2010 collision in the South China Sea - the ship has been sold as scrap for $16 million and was under her own power Tuesday afternoon to Singapore and a coming date with one of the several "shipbreakers" along the shores of the Indian Ocean.
That will mark the end of the most well-known ship afloat. The Valdez, (pronounced val-deez) was only 3 years old when it ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989, spilling at least 11 million gallons of crude into the fragile ecosystem of the bay, killing tens of thousands of seabirds and other marine life and damaging 700 miles of coastline.
"It was a tragic accident and one we deeply regret," Alan Jeffers, an ExxonMobil spokesman said on Tuesday.
The disaster cost ExxonMobil, more than $4 billion in cleanup costs, civil settlements and damages and incalculable harm to its reputation.
In 1990, Congress passed a law prohibiting any ship that had caused a spill of more than 1 million gallons from navigating Prince William Sound, thus banishing the Exxon Valdez from the Alaska pipeline-to-West Coast run for which it was built.
Even as disaster crews were cleaning up the mess in Alaska, the ship was towed to San Diego, repaired and renamed the Exxon Mediterranean and moved to work in shipping lanes in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. The name was changed again to SeaRiver Mediterranean when Exxon moved its fleet under a new subsidiary, River Maritime Inc. The name was later shortened to S/R Mediterranean and then Mediterranean. In 2007 and 2008 the ship was converted to become an ore hauler, sold by ExxonMobil and renamed the Dong Fang Ocean. In November of 2010 the Dong Fang collided with the Aali, a Malta-flagged cargo ship, in the South China Sea. The Dong Fang was towed to Longyan Port in the Chinese province of Shandong. Again renamed, this time to Oriental Nicety, her sale to Best Oasis was announced by Maryland-based Global Marketing Systems, Inc. the largest cash buyer of ships slated for scrap.
The disaster in Prince William Sound caused Exxon Mobil to re-examine its operating practices.
"As a result of the accident we took a number of reforms and adopted a system that is now industry-leading for environmental and safety performance," ExxonMobil's Jeffers said Tuesday, citing the company's maritime safety record since. "That is really the result of an effort that came out of the Valdez accident."
The company is now building two double-hulled tankers at the Aker Philadelphia Shipyard for delivery in 2014. They are smaller than the Exxon Valdez and will replace two others in the SeaRiver Maritime Fleet.
Source: The Cordova Times. By Bill Bowen. 23 March 2012