Exxon Valdez Grounding

I date myself here, look up the name Joseph Hazelwood. Look up Exxon Valdez. Never mind the 3 mate and recent maritime academy grad was at the helm. The master was drunk. I had to sign soon after that I had never been convicted of DUI. The best advice anyone can give is be honest. My take is NMC would rather deal with honesty than honesty found after dishonesty. IE sharing truth after truth is found by nmc. We all make mistakes, expungment can still be uncovered if intelligence gathering warrants it. In the meantime, whatever you were doing to get a DUI charge, change that behavior. You’ll thank yourself next time you stop for blue lights.


What 3rd mate are you referring to? If you are referring to Cousins (the mate on watch when he ran the Exxon Valdez on Bligh’s Reef), he was not an academy grad. He had a second mates license at the time of the incident.

Other than that I agree with your advise of being honest and forthright.

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Another thing to consider, they failed to prove that Hazelwood was drunk. I forget whether he passed the BAC test, or the test was invalidated due to mishandling


Re Mate at helm, I stand corrected.
One curious event at a local mariners’ meeting was this. Guest speaker was from Coast Guard Nashville district office, his job was marine accident investigator. His words to us were of all the places he had conducted marine accident investigations, Tennessee was the top state for impaired mariners. The remark that stuck with me most went something like, “we get the truth, nothing but the truth, and truth one is willing to tell.”

IIRC it was reported that Hazelwood had spent the afternoon in a bar and was drinking screwdrivers. Whether he was impaired or not at the time of the grounding doesn’t alter the fact that he might have prevented the accident if he’d stayed on the bridge until they reached open water.
They were fresh off mooring, so no reason for him to be tired.
Like another infamous master who wasn’t on the bridge as his ship headed into the eye of a hurricane and sank with all souls.
Complacency kills.


Yes. Everyone knows that he had a severe drinking problem and that he had been drinking, but they could not prove he was drunk. The criminal conviction was for: negligent discharge of oil. The prosecutors proved that he was negligent in causing the spill.

In the civil trial, Exxon put on a bunch of Valdez tanker captain expert witnesses that testified it was permissible for Hazelwood to leave the bridge in that location. The plaintiffs lawyers asked these experts, have you ever done it? They all said: no. The jury found Exxon grossly negligent.

At the time, many in the public believed that he was drunk driving the ship which the press didn’t work very hard at debunking. That same public perception and outrage at the size of the catastrophe worked against him.
Related to the title of this thread, I believe his driver’s license had been suspended for repeated DUIs.

I would say that most people’s recollection to this day are the same. If the subject comes up in polite conversation with the typical person I meet who has no connection to the industry, they typically think he was drunk at the wheel and ran it up on a reef.

I suspect that most “brown water” or small vessel mariners think the same thing as the general public. They don’t know the facts of this event 30 years ago or understand the context.

The truth of it was that although Hazelwood was an alcoholic, he was a highly skilled and successful tanker captain for many years. Although he had been drinking earlier in the day, there was no evidence that that played any role in the incident that happened many hours later .

He made a mistake in leaving the bridge too soon and was properly found negligent. That should not have ended his career. Nor should it have made him into a permanent irredeemable and infamous villain. But the size and impact of the spill steamrolled him.


Even if the captain leaves the bridge he should still be able to maintain awareness if need be.

In this case the captain left the bridge while the ship was on an unsafe heading, if you roughly know the time of the turn, keep an eye on the time, if you can’t feel the ship turning on time something is wrong. Plus you can take a glance out the window to see if Bligh Reef light is where it ought to be.

In that situation captain should feel “chronic unease”.

SOP when a green mate is on watch, that’s why they are on the 8x12.


I remember in school seeing him at a couple events like some industry celebrity. I also remember he always had a drink in hand.


I remember going over this case at , I think , a brm class, at Mitags, and I think it turned out that pretty much everybody had some fault…pilots were getting off the ships early , for better sea conditions, the mate certainly should have had better sitch awareness , and of course the capt was down below. Also think they had an early vts system, and rumor was the coasties were smoking reefer. Only one who saw it coming was the woman lookout (held a third mates license)…but the mate disregarded her warning about the range light…the chain of events thing will get ya every time.


For what it’s worth, I sailed with a mate who was familiar with the third mate you mention. He sailed with her on a different ship and said she was an excellent mate and that he had the utmost respect for her professionalism.


For what it’s worth I sailed as C/E with the third mate mentioned for more than three years except she had become a Captain by then. She exhibited the highest standards of professionalism. She took us around the world several times in the Teco bulker we were on.


I remember said person being mentioned while I worked at TECO as well and heard good things.

No one seemed to know whatever became of the mate who missed the turn, however…

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If I recall correctly there were three persons on the bridge - a young female third mate, a same age AB and an elderly AB acting as helmsman. Ice was spotted in the fairway and a course change was ordered to avoid the ice. It was night and dark outside and how the ice was spotted is not clear. The turn was executed by the helmsman as instructed by the third mate. After passing the ice in the fairway, it was forgotten to change the course back again. The tanker thus continued on the wrong course for more than an hour and ran aground. Who to blame? The helmsman? The third mate? The visiting AB? The Master in his cabin? I would suggest crew negligence and bad bridge procedures - four persons contributed to the incident and none was individually responsible. The ship owner should of course improve the procedures.

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It’s been a long time since I’ve spoken with anyone in the know, but my imperfect recollection is that the mate got a license suspension for a few months, changed his name, got his license back, and went on to have a very successful maritime career. I don’t know if he is still sailing. He could very well be retired by now; it’s been 30 years.

I also remember hearing this particular AB was a notorious problem. When ordered, say, to bring the rudder “left ten,” he would bring the helm over so that the rudder angle indicator was at ten degrees left, then return the wheel to midships.

True? I can’t say, but several folks over the years have mentioned he was a poor seaman and even worse helmsman.


I remember attending a lecture given by Hazelwood’s defense attorney while in school. During that lecture it was stated that the quartermaster was effectively deaf in one ear and the command to make the turn was initially missed because of this. Once it was determined that the turn had not been initiated, the resultant delay and advance of the vessel contributed to hitting the reef. These were the words of a defense attorney so whether it was the case is up for debate. Either way it was an interesting presentation on the case and the casualty.

According to this report by the Alaska Oil Spill Commission, http://www.evostc.state.ak.us/index.cfm?FA=facts.details there were 3 people on the bridge at the time of grounding. A helmsman, a lookout (female who held a 3rd mate license) and 3rd mate Cousins who had the conn.
The lookout reported that Bligh Reef light appeared broad off the starboard bow when it should have been off the port bow . The turn to avoid the reef was initiated too late to avoid the grounding.

There were procedures in place but they were not followed.

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