Does the Exxon Valdez by another name sound any sweeter? India's Supreme Court doesn't think so.
The American-built supertanker, notorious for the disastrous 1989 oil spill in Alaska's waters, was slated for destruction at an Indian scrap yard under its new name, the Oriental Nicety, until the court blocked its entry this week.
Despite its pleasant alias under its current owner, a Hong Kong-based subsidiary of an Indian firm, the ship was refused access to India's shores until it is decontaminated.
Mercury, arsenic, PCBs, asbestos and residual oil can contaminate old tankers, according to the Basel Convention, the United Nations treaty on hazardous waste. The treaty calls for decontamination in a ship's country of export.
It's another problem for the ex-Exxon Valdez, a 26-year-old ship that can't seem to escape its past.
On March 24, 1989, millions of gallons of crude oil spewed into Alaska's Prince William Sound when the Exxon Valdez dashed against rocks, coating the shoreline with petroleum sludge and killing nearly 40,000 birds. The spill also demolished the area's fishing industry.
Texas-based Exxon Mobil Corp. spent $900 million in restitution in a 1991 settlement and is battling more litigation from the spill.
Meanwhile, it continued to operate the ship under new names. The ship was dubbed the Exxon Mediterranean, the S/R Mediterranean and finally the Mediterranean before it was sold to a Chinese firm in 2008, converted into an ore hauler and christened the Dong Fang Ocean, according to American Bureau of Shipping records.
This March, Global Marketing Systems Inc. bought the ship to sell for demolition.
India is one of the world's leaders in ship-breaking, an industry that salvages usable metal and parts by dismantling old ships. But environmental organizations such as ToxicsWatch Alliance and NGO Shipbreaking Platform say companies operating in South Asia violate hazardous waste management laws and expose workers to toxic materials. They want ship owners to take responsibility for the waste.
Exxon Mobil hasn't owned the ship in almost five years, company spokesman Bill Holbrook said Wednesday.
"Valdez was a tragic accident, and one we deeply regret," he said. The company has since adopted rigorous safety measures, he added.
While ship-breaking in general has its issues, the main problem in this case is that people remember the ship in question, said Rod Lohin, executive director of the University of Toronto's Lee-Chin Institute for corporate citizenship.
Exxon Mobil has no legal obligations to the ship because it no longer owns it, Lohin said. "The question is whether there's a moral obligation."
The company's primary responsibility is to ensure such an accident never happens again, Lohin said, but it can choose to go beyond that.
"Are they going to track the life cycle of everything they own?" he said.
"That might be an opportunity to be seen in the future as disposing of things properly."
With files from The Associated Press
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