The Long Island-based captain of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker that ran aground off Alaska in 1989, causing one of the worst environmental disasters in the country’s history — has died, according to reports.

Joseph Hazelwood, who lived in Huntington, passed away in July at age 75 after battling cancer and COVID-19, according to the New York Times.

The Exxon Valdez crashed on Alaska’s Bligh Reef on March 24, 1989, pumping roughly 11 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound.

An organization tasked with assessing the crash’s impact found that it devastated wildlife in the area, killing nearly a quarter million seabirds — along with 22 killer whales and 250 bald eagles.

John Hazelwood
Former Exxon Valdez Capt. Joseph Hazelwood listens to testimony during his trial on charges related to the ship’s massive oil spill.
Bettmann Archive

Hazelwood was charged with reckless endangerment, operating a vessel while intoxicated and negligent discharge of oil in the wake of the crash.

Some witnesses said they saw him drinking vodka at the ship’s bar before the accident, while others didn’t recall him appearing intoxicated or erratic.

Hazelwood was ultimately found guilty of negligent discharge of oil into state waters and acquitted of more serious charges.

Exxon Valdez recovery
Recovery crews pick up dead sea otters along Green Island, Alaska, following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, the worst oil spill in U.S. history.
Bettmann Archive

He was ordered to pay $50,000 in restitution and to perform 1,000 hours of community service.

An Alaska jury awarded more than 30,000 plaintiffs adversely impacted by the crash $5 billion in damages in 1994. The US Supreme Court later lessened that figure to $507 million in 2008.

The disaster spurred the passage of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which gave officials greater power to respond to major spills.

Exxon Valdez tanker near Naked Island
Crude oil from the tanker Exxon Valdez swirls on the surface of Alaska’s Prince William Sound near Naked Island on April 9, 1989.


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