Joseph Hazelwood dead at 75

Capt. Joseph Hazelwood, who was the master of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker when it grounded on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound near Valdez on March 24, 1989 has passed away.

His death in mid-July was reported by the online publication gCaptain, which noted he was 75.

Cause of death was not included in the article.

Other than the report in gCaptain, his passing got little media coverage.

The oil spill resulted in one of the worst in U.S. history, with an estimated 11 million gallons of crude oil of the 1.2 million barrels on board, spreading in the Sound and having a catastrophic impact on fish and wildlife, with lasting environmental devastation. The spill prompted Congress to enact the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) of 1990.

Hazelwood was acquitted at trial of felony charges related to the accident, including operating a vessel while intoxicated. He was found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of negligently discharging oil and sentenced to a $50,000 fine and 1,000 hours of community service. His Coast Guard license as a Master Mariner was briefly suspended but never revoked.


Hazelwood was not on the bridge of the Exxon Valdez when the vessel grounded.

The National Transportation Safety Board determined that the probable cause was a third mate failed to properly maneuver the vessel because of fatigue and excessive workload and the master’s failure to provide a proper navigation watch due to impairment by alcohol. The NTSB also found that Exxon Shipping Co., a subsidiary of the Exxon Corp., failed to provide a fit master, a rested and sufficient crew and effective Vessel Traffic Service and pilotage services, the gCaptain article said.

In 1991, a U.S. District Court in Anchorage accepted guilty pleas from Exxon Corp. and Exxon Shipping

Co., including a $150 million criminal fine, of which $125 million was remitted in recognition of Exxon’s cooperation in the cleanup operation.

Hazelwood was born in Hawkinsville, Georgia on Sept. 24, 1946 and raised in Huntington, Long Island, New York. He earned a bachelor’s degree in marine transportation from the State University of New York Maritime College.

According to Wikipedia, Hazelwood acknowledged having been diagnosed with a form of “depression, characterized by episodic abuse of alcohol.” At the time of the Exxon Valdez incident his New York state driving privileges were suspended as a result of a driving under the influence on Sept 13, 1988. Exxon fired Hazelwood following the accident.