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Midnight Ecological Disaster

Exxon Valdez


Twenty Year Anniversary

Twenty years ago (March 24, 1989) the story grabbed first place in the headlines. Hundreds of reporters from around the world were quickly reassigned to cover the disaster of unprecedented proportions.


Thirty three thousand fishermen, native Alaskans and business people suffered from the tragedy. 250,000 sea birds died along with harbor seals, sea otters, whales and other marine wildlife.


Natural Beauty and Tranquility

Just the day before, the waters of Prince William Sound were crystal clear and marine life vibrantly flourished. The clean but rugged shoreline punctuated by fjords and glaciers was a tourist’s dream. But four minutes after midnight on March 24, 1989 everything changed.


The super tanker Exxon Valdez loaded with 200.6 million liters (53 million gallons) of crude oil was beginning its journey to California. Captain Joseph Hazelwood was the ship’s master. To avoid icebergs the supertanker steered out of the shipping lane. Captain Hazelwood retired to his stateroom around 11pm.


Captain at the Helm

Georgia born Captain Hazelwood was a graduate of the New York Maritime College and at thirty two he became the youngest skipper of the Exxon fleet. He won awards for his abilities and accomplishments. He was a great seaman but he struggled with alcoholism. But Exxon kept him at the helm of the supertanker.


A Few Drinks

Before the loaded tanker left the dock that night, the Captain had visited two local bars. Exxon has acknowledged their captain was drunk that night. After 11PM he put the ship on autopilot, opened it up to full speed, left Third Mate Gregory Cousins in charge and headed to his bedroom.


Submerged Reef

Just after midnight, Third Mate Cousins realized the ship was heading towards a submerged reef. He desperately tried to steer the supertanker away from the reef but three minutes later it happened. The Exxon Valdez slammed into Bligh Reef.


Forty two million litres (11 million gallons) of black crude oil hemorrhaged into the pristine waters of Prince William Sound.



The finger pointing began. Was Captain Hazelwood to blame or was it Exxon’s responsibility for allowing him to be the shipmaster? Was the Coastguard at fault for not tracking the course of the tanker and sounding an alarm earlier or was the radar equipment faulty?


Devastating Consequences

One thing is certain – one of the worst man-made ecological disasters in history occurred at 12:04am, March 24, 1989. Thousands of lives were affected by loss of livelihood; marine life was devastated; the environment was catastrophically damaged and Exxon not only suffered a severe blow to its image but the cost of fines paid out exceeded 3.4 billion dollars.


“The resulting spill covered over 25,900 square kilometers (10,000 square miles) of Alaska's coastal ocean, and oiled some 2,400 kilometers (1,500 miles) of some of the nation's most productive and ecologically sensitive shoreline, three national parks, four national wildlife refuges, a national forest, five state parks, four state critical habitat areas, one state game sanctuary, and many ancestral lands for Alaska Natives.” (1)


The pathetic images of marine birds blackened by thick crude oil either dead or dying or helplessly immobilized were difficult to view. The polluted shores of such an awesome geographical area provoked disgust and sadness over such a needless tragedy.

A far more serious disaster is recorded in vivid detail in the Bible.


Far Worse Tragedy

Perhaps you have looked at the world around you and wondered why all the suffering and sadness. When did misery, greed and abuse get its foothold in the human race? Why is every sphere of our existence marred by some sort of darkness? Morally, we look like the oil-covered ducks. The human landscape is littered with debris and casualties of every kind.


The Bible documents the tragedy and provides the only rational explanation. Human beings were created by God. He didn’t create a robotic race. He created the human race – humans with a free will to please either God or themselves.


Human Race Hits a Reef

Captain Adam and his wife Eve were at the helm. Recklessly they took their own course and rebelled against God in order to please themselves. You can read that story in Genesis chapter Three of the Bible. They slammed the human race into the reef of sin. Humanity has been hemorrhaging ever since.


Maybe you think that is a simplistic explanation but do you have one that is better?


The Bible puts it this way:


“…through one man sin entered into the world,

and death through sin,

and so death spread to all men, because all sinned…”

(Romans 5:12)



God’s pristine creation has been marred by sin. The Bible says all facets of creation are groaning because of the tragic affects of sin. (Romans 8:22) You have seen the effects of sin. You have experienced the sad effects of darkness in your own life. So have I. Secretly you may have groaned over the struggles in your life.


Have you ever paralleled your life with one of those oil-drenched seabirds – damaged, struggling and helpless? Is there a rescuer?


Yes! If sin and death entered the human race by one man (Adam) so salvation and life have come to us by one man – but not Adam. Jesus Christ is His Name.


But the free gift is not like the trespass (sin)

For if many died through one man's trespass (sin)

much more have the grace of God

and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.

(Romans 5:15)


Hope – Good News

Immobilized, helpless and without any power or ability to save ourselves from our sins – Christ came into the world to save us. (1Timothy 1:15) He came to deal with our problem of sin. He took the punishment our sins deserved and He died for us on the Cross in order for us to be saved.


For while we were still helpless,

at the right time

Christ died for the ungodly.

(Romans 5:6)


To refuse salvation is to face eternal death and Hell – the final outcome of the catastrophe of sin. Friend, there is only one way to be delivered from the misery and load of your sins. Embrace, accept, trust Christ as your own personal Saviour. The moment you do, you will receive eternal life and the forgiveness of sins.


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Posted in: Life Lessons


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