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Exxon Tanker Gets Stuck in Long Beach Harbor Mud

April 06, 1990|ERIC MALNIC | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Exxon Long Beach, sister ship of the ill-starred Exxon Valdez, ran aground Thursday morning inside the breakwater in Long Beach Harbor, but officials said that there was no damage to the supertanker and no oil was spilled.

Coast Guard Cmdr. Chris Desmond said the 950-foot Exxon Long Beach was under the control of a Long Beach harbor pilot when it strayed into relatively shallow water and became stuck in soft mud.

"We're trying to figure out how it happened," Desmond said. "This sort of thing happens sporadically, but it's not supposed to happen."

Desmond said the accident occurred about 7:10 a.m. as the ship moved slowly from its anchorage inside the breakwater to Pier E on Terminal Island, where it was to discharge 1,260,248 barrels of Alaskan crude oil.

He said the ship, which was drawing about 54 to 56 feet of water at the time, "was going very slowly, about one knot," when it ran aground north of Anchorage C-14 and west of the harbor's main channel.

The anchorage and the channels such ships are supposed to use when heavily laden are dredged to a depth of more than 60 feet, Desmond said.

With the ship stuck fast, the crew "shifted the cargo . . . waited for the high tide . . . and backed it off about a half-hour later," Desmond said. "They went back to the anchorage and checked for damage. There was none."

Desmond said the Exxon Long Beach then proceeded on to Pier E to begin unloading its cargo.

Officials said the pilot--whose name was not disclosed--was tested for drugs and alcohol, but the results were not immediately determined.

"There is no comparison (with the Exxon Valdez spill)," Exxon spokeswoman Carrie Chassin said of Thursday's incident. "There is no oil spilled. This ship was traveling . . . with a local pilot aboard. It had three tugs accompanying it. And this was a soft bottom . . . there was no damage to the vessel. The two situations, in my view are not comparable."

A little more than a year ago, the 987-foot Exxon Valdez headed out of Valdez, Alaska, with the same cargo the Exxon Long Beach was carrying--more than 1,260,000 barrels of crude oil bound for Long Beach.

With the captain, Joseph Hazlewood, absent from the bridge and a mate not certified to pilot the ship in those waters at the helm, the Exxon Valdez strayed off course, running aground on Bligh Reef about 25 miles south of Valdez.

The collision gashed the hull of the giant tanker and about 11 million gallons of oil leaked into Prince William Sound in the worst oil spill in U.S. history. Hundreds of miles of beaches were fouled.

Two weeks ago, a jury in Anchorage found Hazlewood guilty of a misdemeanor pollution charge but acquitted him of related felony charges, including operation of a vessel while under the influence of alcohol and reckless endangerment. Hazlewood was sentenced to 1,000 hours of work on one of the beach cleanup crews.

Last Feb. 7, the tanker American Trader ruptured its hull on its own anchor while maneuvering for a mooring to unload oil off Huntington Beach. Almost 400,000 gallons of oil leaked from the ship, fouling 14 miles of Orange County beaches.

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