While authorities waited for its fired captain to surrender, the tanker Exxon Valdez was being readied for an attempt to haul it off the reef it hit last month, causing the nation's worst oil spill.
Crews struggled Monday to empty the last of its cargo, and if all goes as planned, an attempt will be made at high tide Wednesday to refloat the tanker and pull it out of Prince William Sound - one of North America's most sensitive ecological regions and one that has been turned into an oily disaster.Thousands of birds and untold numbers of otters have died since more than 11 million gallons of Alaska crude oil gushed out of the tanker March 24 - fouling an area bigger than the state of Rhode Island by Monday.
Joseph Hazelwood, the fired captain who vanished from Alaska after the grounding and is sought by the state on three criminal counts, made arrangements to surrender Tuesday in Huntington, N.Y.
Hazelwood is accused of misdemeanor charges of operating the ship while under the influence of alcohol, reckless endangerment and negligent discharge of oil.
On Monday, the spill forced officials to close the $12 million herring fishery for the season.
The fishery is where fishermen go after herring just as the fish are about to spawn at the start of the Prince William Sound fishing season. More than half the herrings' spawning habitat was polluted.
"It means they don't have a fishery, and it means they have to come up with another means of making a living," said Jack Lamb, president of the Cordova District Fishermen United. The fishermen will be eligible for compensation from Exxon.
Other fishermen, meanwhile, worried that the spreading slick will shut down even more lucrative salmon fishing this summer. The region's fishing industry is worth $150 million a year.
A number of fishermen have filed class action lawsuits against Exxon, which has set up a $10 million fund for those hurt by the spill and opened claims offices in Valdez and nearby Cordova, where long lines of fishermen could now be expected.
Two smaller tankers - the Exxon San Francisco and the Exxon Baton Rouge - pulled up alongside the Exxon Valdez last week to take on most of the 42.8 million gallons that remained in the tanker after it hit well-charted Bligh Reef. A third tanker, the Exxon Baytown, was removing the last of the oil Monday.
Officials said they hoped to refloat the Exxon Valdez as early as Wednesday, when three days of high tides begin with the full moon.
An army of 1,100 people was fighting the spill Monday, using 100 boats to chase and surround oil as far as 100 miles from the ship. The slick covered more than 1,000 square miles.
Other workers cleaned off rocks and skimmed tide pools with tools or their bare hands.
Deppe said the success of the off-loading provided a "little bright spot in this whole tragedy. That's 1 million barrels that's not in the water."