The port commander who was on the radio with the captain of an Exxon tanker as it created the nation's worst oil spill said the skipper did not sound drunk as he tried to rock the ship free of a reef despite gashes in the hull that were leaking millions of gallons of crude.
According to transcripts of the 90-minute radio conversation released Tuesday, Coast Guard Cmdr. Steve McCall told Exxon Valdez Capt. Joseph Hazelwood shortly after his ship went aground, "Take it slow and easy."Before you make any drastic attempt to get away, make sure you don't, you know, start doing any ripping. I wouldn't recommend doing much wiggling."
Hazelwood, who has been charged with being drunk when the giant tanker hit a well-charted reef March 24, said, "Major damage has been done, and we kind of rock-and-rolled over it. We're just kind of hung up on the stern here. We're just, ah, we'll drift over it."
With holes as long as 24 feet ripped in the hull, the Exxon Valdez dumped what has now been determined to be 11.2 million gallons of thick crude oil into Prince William Sound, causing an environmental disaster.
"Captain Hazelwood reported his craft was torn up and in danger of sinking," McCall told United Press International. "I warned him to stay cool.
"The captain didn't sound drunk," said McCall, an old friend of Hazelwood's. "I didn't notice any slurring of words. But he obviously seemed worried, concerned."
State officials disclosed Tuesday the spillage totaled 11.2 million gallons instead of the 10.1 million reported by Exxon.
"Exxon was the first to use the figure of 240,000 barrels (10.1 million gallons)," said Bill Lamoreux, on-site coordinator for the state. "But results . . . from professional gauging firms present during the unloading (of the oil that did not spill) put the total at 268,000 barrels (11.2 million gallons.)"
Exxon had no immediate comment.
Meanwhile, wildlife officials put on a light and sound show of fireworks, shotguns and propane torches along western shores of the sound to scare returning migratory birds away from oil-fouled beaches. Pilots were warned to avoid non-contaminated areas in hopes the birds would land in them.
An estimated 20 million migratory waterfowl, including one-fifth of the world's trumpeter swans, are due to arrive in the sound in late April and early May.
"We set out some flares and blasted away with noisemakers," said David McGillivary, field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We hope to do more later when the weather clears."
A blizzard stalled the cleanup of oil from the surface of the sound Tuesday, and only about 100 barrels of crude was skimmed. The Soviet super skimmer Vagdaghursky has cleared its debris-clogged suction assembly and was sailing toward the Kenai Peninsula, where the bulk of oil outside Prince William Sound is located.
Despite limited overflights because of the bad weather, fresh oil was spotted Tuesday on island beaches south of Kenai Peninsula and about 300 miles west of the original spill.