Exxon Valdez, Deepwater Horizon top accident list

This year’s International WorkBoat Show issue takes a look back at 10 marine accidents/disasters from the past quarter century and what changes have taken place as a result.

Our list includes the Exxon Valdez in 1989, 1993’s Bayou Canot/Amtrak Sunset Limited accident in Alabama, and the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

We all know about the Deepwater Horizon blowout, but the grounding of the Exxon Valdez more than 20 years earlier is still probably the most notorious marine accident and oil spill in U.S. history.
While the 257,000 bbls. spilled is not nearly as much as the approximately 4.9 million bbls. 

discharged as a result of 2010’s Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, the environmental impact was certainly one of the most devastating in history. The cleanup costs, economic losses and legal settlements totaled at least $5 billion to $7 billion.

The legacies that live on as a result of the Valdez are good and bad. The good includes the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA ‘90) and the creation of the Ship Escort/Response Vessel System (SERVS) in Prince William Sound. 

In addition to greater liability, OPA ‘90 required additional physical protection for petroleum cargo, primarily through a mandate to replace all single-skin tankers and tank barges with double hulls. Oil-spill response also was ratcheted up significantly. 

In Alaska, OPA ‘90 mandated laden-tanker escorts and established two regional citizens’ advisory councils to provide petroleum movement oversight, one in Prince William Sound and one in Cook Inlet. 

The Bayou Canot/Amtrak Sunset Limited accident set in motion a fundamental change for the tug and barge industry, Subchapter M. The regulation, nearing its final stages, will remove the “uninspected” label from towboats.

“It’s the most significant towing and barge accident in recent memory,” said Jennifer Carpenter, a senior vice president with the American Waterways Operators, Arlington, Va. “It had a lot to do with where we are today with Subchapter M. It changed a lot of things like accident response, wheelhouse training, casualty reporting, and licensing.”

It was also a catalyst for AWO’s Responsible Carrier Program.

“The only positive thing that came about from that accident as we approach its 20th anniversary is the significant amount of safety measures that have come about like safety management systems, simulator training, and resource management training,” said Carpenter.

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