SAN FRANCISCO — The Exxon Valdez oil tanker cannot return to the Alaskan sound it fouled 13 years ago with nearly 11 million gallons of crude, a federal appeals court ruled Thursday.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Oil Pollution Act, which among other things prohibits any ship from operating in Prince William Sound if it has spilled more than 1 million gallons of oil anywhere. The 1990 act has prohibited 18 vessels from sailing into the sound, Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said.
Congress adopted the rule on grounds that the sound was an “environmentally sensitive area” and that it would encourage vessel owners to take steps to avoid spills. The act also provided for a navigational light on Bligh Reef, where the Valdez ran aground, and demanded new equipment and standards for oil spill cleanups.
The Valdez spill was March 23, 1989. Congress made the act retroactively enforceable to cover that accident.
A spokesman for SeaRiver Maritime International Inc., a Houston-based shipping concern that owns the ship, said the Exxon Mobile Corp. subsidiary may appeal the decision.
“We’re disappointed with the outcome,” spokesman Ray Botto said. “We’re currently evaluating it and have not determined what a go-forward plan would look like.”
He said the ship, which cost $125 million to build, has been shipping internationally under the U.S. flag since the company spent about $30 million fixing its damaged hull.
The company argued to the appeals court that the Valdez, since renamed the S/R Mediterranean, was being wrongly singled out and punished. The company said there was no basis for believing that a vessel that spilled oil in the past would spill in the future.
The three-judge panel disagreed unanimously.
“The concern that the Exxon Valdez presents an unreasonable risk to Prince William Sound is sufficient to justify the restriction on SeaRiver’s use of the vessel in that area,” Judge Richard Paez wrote.