The Exxon Valdez, the tanker that caused the nation's worst oil spill, will return to service under the name Exxon Mediterranean, plying the seas half a world away from Alaska, officials said today.Exxon Shipping Co. President Gus Elmer said the decision to rename the vessel was consistent with its relocation to the foreign service. The ship is due to return to duty next month.
"Due to declining Alaskan crude oil, the vessel will enter foreign service, most likely loading crude in the Mediterranean or the Middle East. It is consistent with our policy that the vessels be named according to their location," Elmer said.
He declined to say whether the environmental disaster in Alaska 16 months ago was a major factor in renaming the vessel the Exxon Mediterranean and changing its assignment.
"It is strictly an economics decision," he said.
Alaska's environmental commissioner Dennis Kelso, however, said he believes the name change has more to do with public relations than economics.
"I think the key question is what kind of tankers do we have operating worldwide?" Kelso said. "The accident happened here, but it could have happened in Puget Sound or San Francisco Bay wherever tankers transport crude or its byproducts.
"What broke down here was the system and the tanker was part of it."
The tanker has been undergoing work since August to repair damage it sustained on March 24, 1989, when it ran aground on a reef in Prince William Sound. The ship spilled almost 11 million gallons of oil into the sound, sullying hundreds of miles of coastline and killing wildlife.
The 987foot Valdez will be floated out of dry dock for a trial run to determine if the National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. will need to make any refinements to the $30 million repair job. The company built the ship in 1986.
Coast Guard inspector Lt. Bill Uberti said National Steel is scheduled to begin two weeks of trial runs after the ship's dry dock is flooded on July 20. He said he will board the ship part of that time to certify it as seaworthy.
"If there's a problem, they'll have to fix it before it can go out into service, but I don't anticipate any problems," Uberti said. "The only damage to the ship was structurally, and that's all been fixed."
Exxon officials have decided to renew the tanker's certificate of inspection now, although the present one does not expire until the end of the year, Uberti said.
The 30,000ton tanker was placed on supports and hydraulic shorings while workers tore out the mangled steel of the singlehulled ship and replaced it with 3,000 tons of new, inchthick steel.
Exxon officials declined to retrofit the ship with a double hull because it was not feasible from an engineering standpoint, Exxon spokeswoman Carrie Chasin said in March.
But a National Steel spokesman said, "It's feasible to put a double hull. The question is the cost and the time."
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