SURVEYOR'S NOTEBOOK

The End Of The Exxon Valdez

By Rik van Hemmen

A recent bit in the news announced that the “Exxon Valdez” in its present incarnation as the “Oriental Nicety” is bound for the scrap yard.

It is easy to think of the “Exxon Valdez” as some villainous symbol in the drama of the oil spill in Alaska, but, as Paul Harvey used to say, then there is the rest of the story.

The “Exxon Valdez” was repaired but banned forever from the United States, surely a completely irrational act, since she was a well built, well managed, well maintained relatively new ship. Regardless of what anybody has tried to infer, in the end, the spill was a completely unintentional accident, and even a double hulled tanker would have spilled oil in that grounding.

Surely some of the ships that carried the cargoes she was no longer allowed to carry to US ports would not have been as reliable. And certainly in the late 80’s, before ISM, improved classification maintenance standards, and increased Flag State Control, there were some pretty dicey ships that entered US waters.

She was renamed “Exxon Mediterranean” and continued to operate as a single skin tanker, while the world’s tanker fleet was rapidly converting from single skin tankers to double skin tankers. While there were ship operators who forecasted gloom and doom when the USCG, and later the world, dictated double hull tankers, the switch was a major factor in much reduced oil spills in the years after the “Exxon Valdez” spill. Undoubtedly after many years of having suffered much larger oil spills than the “Exxon Valdez,” we have to thank the “Exxon Valdez” for a much improved marine industry.

In 1991 we were asked to study the effectiveness of double bottoms during the “Exxon Valdez” litigation. The results of that study can be found in the paper “Merits of Double Bottoms in Crude Oil Tankers“. While today the results may seem uncontroversial, in the early 90’s we were considered to be heretics for our findings in that study and certainly were very strongly challenged by many very prominent Naval Architects. None of their challenges stood the test of time though and today it would be difficult to find anybody who would conclude that the switch to double hulls was a failure.

There is another odd footnote about the “Exxon Valdez.” In 2008 her trade was much restricted as a single skin tanker and she was converted to a bulk carrier based on a boom in the global ore trade. This is quite an expensive modification and ironically provided her with a double bottom.

Remember 2008? Yes, she probably was not a lucky ship, it is unlikely she ever made a profit as a bulk carrier, hence her trip to the scrap yard. Gone but not forgotten.

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