The state of Alaska filed criminal charges Saturday against the fired captain of the tanker Exxon Valdez for the worst oil spill in U.S. history, accusing him of operating the ship while drunk and running it aground in one of North America's most sensitive ecological regions.
Authorities said Capt. Joseph Hazelwood of Huntington, N.Y., apparently had left the state. Leonard Linton, assistant district attorney for Alaska, said his office had asked New York police to help arrest Hazelwood on a $50,000 warrant.In Suffolk County, N.Y., police said they had received a facsimile of the four-page criminal complaint and were attempting to locate Hazelwood.
The complaint accused Hazelwood of operating a ship while intoxicated, reckless endangerment and criminally negligent discharge of oil for the wreck that spilled 11 million gallons of Alaska crude oil into Prince William Sound. The oil spill continued spreading Saturday and the Coast Guard said the Soviet Union was dispatching a ship to help in the cleanup.
Angry Alaskan officials and fishermen have harshly criticized Exxon and the oil industry as the slick has grown and marine life turned up dead. Gov. Steve Cowper said Saturday he would consider a shutdown of the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline, America's chief oil artery, if the oil industry cannot prove they can respond to a major oil spill in the future.
The charges against Hazelwood were filed late Friday. Hazelwood had three or four drinks before he boarded the 987-foot tanker, smelled of alcohol and did not have good balance when he began operating the vessel carrying 53 million gallons of oil, according to witnesses whose testimony led to the charges.
The FBI, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Coast Guard and other agencies also are investigating the accident and the biggest oil spill in American history, but the charges brought by Alaska were the first.
All three charges are misdemeanors. The complaint said Hazelwood boarded his tanker under the influence of alcohol and turned over control to an unauthorized, unlicensed third mate.
The complaint said Hazelwood failed a blood alcohol test and had 50 percent more alcohol in his blood than the legal limit set by the Coast Guard. In a test taken 10 hours after the accident, Hazelwood had a 0.061 percent blood alcohol level when the legal limit is 0.04.