Gov. Steve Cowper appealed to President Bush for federal help in cleaning up the nation's worst oil spill Monday while attention focused on the uncertified third mate who was guiding the ship when it ran aground.
The 11 million gallons that spewed from a grounded Exxon tanker covered 50 square miles of one of the most pristine marine environments in the world early Sunday but expanded like a monstrous blob with a life of its own to cover 100 square miles of Prince William Sound later in the day.The spill measured 10 miles by 10 miles, the Coast Guard said, and the growing slick threatened to spread even more out of control as 30-mph winds began buffeting Valdez Sunday afternoon, hampering the already-desperate cleanup efforts.
The governor, who declared the area a state disaster emergency, asked the president to declare the area a federal disaster, making more money available and bolstering the overwhelmed cleanup effort.
Valdez Mayor John Devens earlier Sunday urged Cowper and Bush to open their treasuries for emergency relief in cleaning up the spill that Cowper said threatened the future of a major fishery and a sensitive environment teeming with sea life.
However, White House spokesman Steve Hart said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had not received a formal request for assistance. Officials said there was some question as to what role the federal government could play in view of Exxon's acknowledged liability for the cleanup.
Alaska, impatient with the plodding oil industry cleanup, acted forcefully Sunday to get out into the waters and fight the spill.
State environmental officials moved to place protective booms around the three most environmentally sensitive areas to keep oil out - something they said should have been done by oil companies Friday when the Exxon Valdez hit a well-marked reef, opening huge holes in the modern 987-foot tanker.
Investigators focused on the actions of the captain and two of his crewmen aboard the tanker. Capt. Joseph Hazelwood, 44, of Huntington, N.Y., was relieved of his command of the ship but remained an Exxon employee, company spokesman Tom Cirigliano said.
The skipper, helmsman and third mate of the tanker were required to give blood and urine samples, which were sent to Anchorage for analysis. They were also subpoenaed to give information to National Transportation Safety Board investigators taking over the probe Sunday in Valdez.
Exxon officials said that before the tanker went aground, the captain retired to his cabin and turned over control of the ship to the third mate, who did not have a required certificate to operate the vessel in the tricky waters south of the Valdez oil port on Alaska's southern coast.
Oil that spewed from the tanker surrounded dozens of sea otters and diving birds. Fingers of oil slipped over water toward islands. The slick remained unchecked by limited cleanup gear despite an oil industry public relations campaign claiming the companies were moving aggressively to fight the spill, state officials said.
"We're very unhappy and we're not going to stand for it," Alaska Commissioner of Environmental Conservation Dennis Kelso said in an interview.
The tanker was carrying 53 million gallons of oil to Long Beach, Calif. The spill, some 25 south of Valdez, fouled waters prized by 1,000 fishermen for salmon, shrimp, crab and herring and by tourists seeking exquisite scenery and a glimpse of whales, seals, sea lions and sea otters.
Kelso said Alaska was so unhappy with the oil industry cleanup that an assistant attorney general lambasted oil officials in what he termed a "blunt discussion." He said oil industry officials privately acknowledged their failure to respond adequately.