Calmer weather allowed an armada of cleanup boats to return to the task of trying to mop up the nation's worst oil spill, which has now reached the Kenai Fjords National Park and a national wildlife refuge.
Officials said Tuesday that oil from the Exxon Valdez spill reached the outer edges of the park south of Seward and islands of the Alaska Maritime Wildlife Refuge in the northern Gulf of Alaska. The area includes the Chiswell Islands, home to huge colonies of sea birds and 1,500 sea lions.Exxon - whose tanker Exxon Valdez was being piloted by an inexperienced crewmember March 24 when it spilled more than 10 million gallons of Alaska crude into Prince William Sound - sent out 30 boats, booms and skimmers to stop the oil from further fouling the scenic national park.
The captain of the Exxon Valdez is accused of being drunk in his cabin when the supertanker impaled itself on a clearly marked reef after veering off course to avoid icebergs.
But crewmembers told investigators they do not believe Capt. Joseph Hazlewood was drunk when the accident occurred and speculated he may have started drinking in his cabin after seeing the extent of the damage to the 987-foot tanker, The Washington Post said.
The Post quoted sources as saying the accident apparently occurred when the crew failed to notice the ship was on automatic pilot and could not correct its collision course with the reef until it was too late.
The cleanup crews dispatched in Alaska Tuesday, meanwhile, were part of a flotilla that returned to the oily bays and beaches when winds that had driven them off on Monday died down.
Stormy weather Monday broke up some oil that had spread to the Gulf of Alaska, but it also stopped cleanup crews and boats from working in Prince William Sound.
On Day 19 of the worst oil spill in U.S. history, a Defense Department assessment team toured the area to determine how to carry out President Bush's pledge of federal help. Military cargo planes already were bringing tons of equipment to Valdez.
In Valdez, the head of the National Wildlife Federation blamed the spill on the "disease of corporate greed" and implored Exxon to set up a multibillion-dollar trust fund to cover damage that is expected to last for years.