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1989: Exxon Valdez creates oil slick disaster
An oil tanker has run aground on a reef off the Alaskan coast, releasing gallons of crude oil into the sea.

The Exxon Valdez got into trouble in Prince William Sound when it hit Bligh Reef, splitting its side open and releasing oil, with reports of an eight-mile (12.8km) slick.

High winds are affecting attempts to suck the slick from the sea's surface and residents have reported poor air quality as emergency crews try to burn off the top layer of oil.

Booms, which are acting like necklaces on the surface of the sea to contain the oil, are failing to do the job.

Environmentalists are also battling to save sea ducks, which number up to 10 million in the area. Ducks and seals have been discovered drenched in oil near the tanker.

The Coast Guard is dropping chemicals in an attempt to break up the slick but local officials say Exxon is responding too slowly.

The clean-up is not proceeding well
Exxon Shipping president, Frank Iarossi
Exxon Shipping president Frank Iarossi said: "The clean-up is not proceeding well. Believe me, that is an understatement. We have a mess on our hands."

Mr Iarossi said the oil tanker was a mile off course although its navigational systems were working.

It had encountered icebergs in the shipping lanes and Captain Joe Hazelwood ordered his helmsman to take the Valdez out of the lanes to go around the icebergs.

The crew failed to make the turn back into the shipping lanes and the ship ran aground at 1204 local time. Cpt Hazelwood was in his quarters at the time.

A spokesman for the Alaska department of environment said efforts to steer the Valdez back into the narrow shipping lane was like "trying to park a Cadillac in a Volkswagen spot".

Businessmen are afraid the oil slick will affect tourism in the area, famous for whale-watching boat trips.

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Watch/Listen
Exxon Valdez
Fears are growing for sea life after the Exxon Valdez ran aground off Alaska

Images of the growing oil slick


In Context
In 2004, a federal judge in Alaska ordered Exxon to pay $4.5bn (2.5bn) in damages for the Valdez oil spill, the largest in US history.

It emerged that the Exxon Valdez had dumped 11 million US gallons (41.8m litres) of crude oil and contaminated about 1,300 miles (2,080 km) of coastline.

Around 250,000 seabirds, nearly 3,000 sea otters, 300 harbour seals, 250 bald eagles and up to 22 killer whales died as a result of the spill.

Exxon captain, Joseph Hazelwood, admitted drinking vodka before boarding the vessel, but was subsequently acquitted of operating a ship while intoxicated.

The Exxon Valdez was repaired and renamed the Sea River Mediterranean and is working in the Atlantic although it is banned from returning to Alaska.

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