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The Exxon-Valdez Obituary: Failed Attempts at Rewriting Reputation

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Sometimes the burden of history can be too much to cope with; such seems to be the case with Exxon-Valdez. Several different incarnations later, the ship is still tainted with its toxic Alaskan oil-spill past. As Benjamin Franklin once said: 

“It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.”

Exxon-Valdez Clean up

Exxon-Valdez Clean up

Recently, the notorious ship was transported to Indian waters for dismantling; but its toxic reputation had preceded the vessel, which began drowning in a quagmire of litigation, controversy, and concern. The Exxon-Valdez is a 27-year-old behemoth that grabbed the headlines in 1989 with one of the worst oil-tanker spills in all of human history. (The horrific BP oil-spill was caused by an oil-well explosion, not a damaged ship, though that catastrophe has spewed almost twenty times as much oil into the ocean — 178 million gallons vs. 10.8 million.)



Environmental Restoration Still Incomplete 


The Exxon-Valdez has left a permanent polluted stain on the Gulf of Alaska. It discharged 11,000,000 gallons into Prince William Sound —negatively impacting all marine animals, wildlife and humans permanently. Billions of sea creatures and wildlife were killed, and many, such as the Pacific Herring and Pigeon Guillemot, have not begun to recover, decades after the disaster. The rapidly disappearing transient whales also remind us of the lasting repercussions caused by this environmental horror.

In the region, labor shortages also ensued because Exxon needed lots of individuals for the spill cleanup. Locals recall that many small businesses folded-up as they lost their local workers as well as losing tourism dollars, unable to compete with the temporary oil spill clean-up wages paid by the perpetrator of the disaster, Exxon.



Multiple Exxon-Valdez Incarnations 


Such destruction would have tainted anyone permanently, but causing such destruction in the pristine environs of Alaska was surely much more damning. The Exxon-Valdez has been trying to fight that stigma ever since — but not very successfully. Exxon-Valdez changed its oil-transporting mission and became an ore-transporting vessel, but that was not all it changed.

The ship changed its nationality four times, and was rechristened seven times — the Exxon Valdez became Exxon Mediterranean, then Sea River Mediterranean and S/R Mediterranean, to simply Mediterranean, to Dong Fang Ocean, then Oriental Nicety and MV Oriental Nicety.

Perhaps it is not surprising that the curious name of Oriental Nicety was unable to save the doomed ship from criticism. Recently, when it was to be brought to the Alang Ship breaking yard in Gujarat, an India Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed. This lawsuit is still pending in the Supreme Court against the “toxic ship.” It is also being argued that the boat had not been decontaminated in its country prior to its arrival in Indian waters, as Basel Convention requires.

Ernest Bramah’s statement most certainly rings true for the Exxon-Valdez:

“A reputation for a thousand years may depend upon the conduct of a single moment.”

Photo courtesy of Jim Brickett via Flickr — Creative Commons License
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