One of the biggest environmental disasters of its time, the Exxon Valdez struck a reef on March 24, 1989 spilling millions of gallons of crude oil into Prince Edward Sound, Alaska which was one of the most pristine places in the entire world. The captain was not on the deck at the time the ship ran into the reef, but as the commanding officer on board, he was charged. For a couple months, Captain Hazelwood came into the Brother Francis Shelter to help with food prep and kitchen chores as part of his community service sentence. This is the story of his final day on the job at the shelter.
Captain, Oh My Captain
Captain, oh my captain, he washed the dishes before the end of his shift. His last shift before going home having fully paid his debt to society.
“Thanks again for your effort.” The shift leader shook his hand after the captain put his dirty apron in the laundry bin. The captain smiled and waved to the other kitchen helpers working in the shelter’s kitchen. The street people eating dinner in the large dining room barely lift their heads from their evening meal as he passes out quietly out the door.
Environment groups were on the shore using soap to clean the crude oil off of the shore creatures who called this desolate place home. Every wave carries more of the toxic oil that prevents them from breathing and will smother them unless someone cleans it off.
It is April and the weather is getting warmer, the ice and snow are melting slowly but still there is this chill in the air, a certain bite. He buttoned up his peacoat as he walked the streets to his car. He is glad to be leaving this place once and for all. His memory would be forever altered by what has happened and he was blamed for it all.
“Captain, we have a problem.” The voice over the speaker was loud and clear and he put his feet on the floor, his rest interrupted. There were problems from time to time when navigating these waters. These oil freighters had double hulls to protect the precious cargo. He was very experienced, but tonight he was feeling a bit under the weather, so he excused himself to his cabin.
There was a wind blowing briskly from the sound, ice still covered the ocean water, but there were gaps and cracks in it. The sun fought through a thick icy fog, but failed to offer any warmth as he got into his car. It was a rental provided to him so he could serve his community service without obstacles. He would drive to the airport, leave the car in the lot and hopefully be home in a few hours. He passed people on the street and nodded his greeting, grateful that no one recognized him.
It was the greatest environmental disaster at the time. The damage to this pristine place was beyond anything ever seen before. The shore now had a thick coat of crude oil. This place, untouched by human hands, was now corrupted by the oil that spilled from the gaping hole in the hull of the ship and by the time the captain had called it into the Coast Guard the damage was extensive. Major news networks covered the story sending cameras into places that had never seen such things. But the world saw all kinds of wildlife covered in crude oil being hand washed by thousands of volunteers. So many left to perish in the oil that covered the shore like blood.
“Aren’t you Captain Hazelwood?” Someone asks as he passes to the parking lot.
He just shakes his head, gets in his car and drives away. Exxon has promised the good people of Alaska as they will pay for all the damage, but time passes and nothing. Let Nature mend. It always has in the past. The nets are empty for the fishermen near Prince Edward Sound, but even that will change.
“He was a good man.” The administrator of the shelter recalls to a local news reporter, “He was quiet, kept to himself and did what he was asked to do without question. I don’t think he said more than three words in his time here. He just did his job and went to the room he was renting nearby.”
There is a channel the freighters are supposed to follow, because there are shallow places in the sound where the rocks can become hazardous. One miscalculation, one mistake and you can have a disaster on your hands. Captain James Cook knew that when he came here over two hundred years ago to explore the land at that time belonged to the Russian Empire destined to become the Last Frontier.