VALDEZ, ALASKA — AUTHORITIES this week investigated reports that the captain of a tanker responsible for a 100-square-mile oil spill had drinking problems. Workers, meanwhile, struggled to clean up the oil spill stretching at least 40 miles from the grounded tanker Exxon Valdez. ``We look at all areas in an investigation and that's an area of concern,'' National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) spokesman Bill Woody said of reports that Exxon Valdez Capt. Joseph Hazelwood had a drunken-driving conviction as recently as September.
Captain Hazelwood likely will be required to testify at NTSB hearings that begin April 4 in Anchorage, Alaska, Mr. Woody said. Hazelwood was not on the bridge when the vessel left shipping lanes last Friday to avoid ice, rammed a charted reef, and ran aground in Prince William Sound, said Exxon Shipping Company officials. The third mate, who did not have proper certification, was in charge, company president Frank Iarossi said.
Investigators said the results of drug and alcohol tests on crew members will be made public within a few days.
Hazelwood pleaded guilty in 1984 to driving while intoxicated after an accident near his home in Huntington, N.Y., The New York Times reported this week. He was convicted of drunken driving last September in New Hampshire and his license was revoked, the paper said.
Attempts early this week to clean up the oil spill were set back by 70 m.p.h. gusts that swept the slick toward the southwest, and forced crews to retreat.
Fewer than 135,000 gallons of oil have been recovered from the 10.1 million-gallon spill. Beaches on four uninhabited islands have been fouled, and the slick was fast approaching sensitive salmon-spawning areas on the larger Knight Island to the southwest.
The goo also threatened the region's abundant herring, marine mammals, and seabirds, biologists said.
The cleanup was getting more difficult as the leading edge of the slick moved into more remote areas of the sparsely inhabited sound.
The 987-foot tanker was carrying 1.2 million barrels of North Slope crude oil when it ran aground. About 240,000 barrels spilled through the hull, creating the slick that has spread to more than 100 square miles. The port of Valdez has been closed since the accident, stranding tankers and cutting production on the North Slope, which supplies nearly 20 percent of the nation's domestic oil.
Meanwhile, Norway, Western Europe's second largest oil producer after Britain, has offered to help clean up the spill. Norway's State Pollution Board said this week that it had offered technical expertise and equipment to US authorities.