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Tue, 19 May 2020 09:00
The fishermen find that damage from the spill is even worse than expected, while a winter storm destroys Exxon’s plans for a quick cleanup. Captain Hazelwood disappears.
Photos of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill can be found here.
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March 26, 1989. Easter Sunday. It's been three days since the Exxon Valdeus struck a reef in Prince William's sound in Alaska. There are now 11 million gallons of oil in the water from the wounded tanker, and the spill still isn't contained. After 72 hours on the surface of the sea, the oil has begun to congeal into a black, scaly crust, covering 100 square miles. 20 miles down current from the ship, a helicopter hovers over a small cluster of islands, already surrounded by oil. Inside sits Jack Lamb, the president of the Cordova Fisherman's Union, his fingers drum nervously against his prosthetic leg. Next to Jack is fellow Fisherman Rick Steiner, his lanky six foot four frame folded into the small sea. They're on a mission. Scattered reports from Fisherman around the sound describe the bodies of dead birds, otters, and deer in the water. Jack and Rick want to see for themselves. The two men asked fellow Fisherman Ricky Aught to join them this morning, but she declined, saying she didn't have the stomach for open cascathed females. Their helicopter touches down on Applegate Rock, the tiny island in the sound. A barren mound of stones made smooth by thousands of years by ice, wind, and tides. Now those smooth rocks are slipped black with oil. It's usually a quiet place, but today a wall of animal cries hits the Fisherman as they step out of the chopper. Birds flutter violently, squawking, trying to free their wings from the blobs of crude that keep them from flying away. A handful of otters call from the water a mournful whale that sounds like the cries of newborn babies. They are all covered in oil. A few have gouged out their own eyes to escape the burn of the fumes. One has chewed off its paw, trying to rid it of oil. Now they thrash violently, sinking below the surface and fighting their way back up again. The oil coating on their bodies has robbed them of their buoyancy. The oil has also destroyed the natural insulation in their fur, which means the otters who don't drown first are going to freeze to death, many within hours. Has a man disembarked from the helicopter? Rick has the shout to make himself heard over the den. Otters, turns. Looks like a snapper floating belly up over there. Jack scans the scene, trying to keep his emotions in check. There's a bald eagle in the water over that way. Just beyond that long rock. Rick splints into distance. Jack, that's not a rock. That's an otter. I think he's stuck. The men push their way through the black shells, shoving aside the bodies of dead fish floating belly up to the animal who sits just offshore. It's slicked black with oil, struggling to breathe. Jack's jaw tightens. You think we can help him? But we have to try. We have to do something. They wait out into the black surf, waist deep in the freezing water and try pulling the otter in by his body. Terrified, the otter wrestles free of them, swimming out deeper into the oily water, where it bobs, up and down, fighting for breath. Then it slowly slides below the black surface and disappears. Rick turns away from Jack and begins walking back to the shore. He keeps his back to his friend, his hand over his eyes. Then, in the middle of a blackened post apocalyptic seascape, two veteran fishermen, as tough as they come, break down in tears. On the helicopter ride back to Valdez, men don't talk about what they've just seen. They sit, quiet and stunned. In the distance, the Exxon Valdez is a tiny, rust colored spec in the middle of a sea of black. Jack knows that every time that oozing black stain touches land, there'll be another scene just like the one he saw. But Exxon has claimed me that no major wildlife destruction has been caused by the spill. The press prints what Exxon tells them, because at the twice daily press conferences in Valdez, it's Exxon that holds the microphone. And they're not going to use it to tell reporters about the courage on Applegate Rock. Nobody knows this is happening, Jack thinks. People need to know, and Jack's going to tell them, he's an idea. It's time to take the microphone away from Exxon. American scandal is sponsored by the new ABC drama Alaska Daily. When an indigenous woman goes missing in Alaska, it sparks new questions about other missing and murdered indigenous women. And that's where the thrilling new ABC drama Alaska Daily begins, and where it's headed, will have you on the edge of your seat. Two time Academy Award winner Hillary Swank stars as Eileen, a veteran reporter, who joins a team of local journalists working to bring the truth to light. From Academy Award winning screenwriter Tom McCarthy, Alaska Daily premieres Thursday, October 6th on ABC, and streams next day on Hulu. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes, and conspiracy theories together, and we'd love for you to join us. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts. From Wondery, I'm Lindsey Graham, and this is American Scandal. In our last episode, a 250,000 ton oil tanker called the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska's Prince William Sound. The ship belongs to the Exxon Corporation, one of the largest companies in the world, with tens of thousands of employees, billions of dollars in annual profits, and state of the art equipment to ship millions of gallons of oil around the globe. But meanwhile, the fishermen of Cordova are facing the loss of their fishing season and the incomes they rely on to survive. They might not have much money, but they've got what Exxon doesn't, a plan for fighting the spill. This is episode two, the mosquito fleet. On the morning of Easter Sunday, while Jack Lamb and Rick Steiner are out checking Appalgate Rock, Chucco Donald is on his daily flyover the spill site. Chucco is in charge of Al Yeska's spill response operation, and for the first time since news of the spill broke, he breathes a sigh of relief. The Exxon Valdez is finally contained by an inflatable, floating fence called a boom, though it's not doing a whole lot at this point, now that the ship is no longer leaking oil. The boom was supposed to have been on site two days ago, five hours after the accident, then it could have stopped the oil from getting out. But now, it just looks like it's protecting the ship from the filthy blackened water of Prince William's sound. But Chucco is just happy he got the boom out there at all. It took 13 hours to even find the boom, get it onto Al Yeska's emergency barge, and then get the barge out to the Valdez. By then, state and federal officials have been alerted, and we're putting pressure on Exxon to get the boom out there as required by the state oil spill contingency plan. But Chucco doesn't work for the state. He works for Al Yeska, who was owned by Exxon, which makes Exxon his boss. So when an Exxon official onboard the Valdez told him to stop, that he was worried the boom might trap the vapors and turn the ship into a bomb, Chucco stopped. But it turns out that official hadn't cleared his order with Exxon headquarters, and when Exxon found out the boom was still on Chucco's barge, they were furious. They needed it to look like they were doing everything they could to contain the spill and head off bad press. That morning, the Al Yeska emergency call center recorded frantic phone conversations between Don Cornet, the head of Exxon's Alaska operations, and Chucco's bosses at Al Yeska. Don told them to do everything they could to make it look like Exxon was taking action, even if the action didn't yield results, saying, it doesn't really matter whether the people out there on the water are really picking up a hell of a lot of oil at this point or not. But it makes a really bad impression when there's not any activity going on. Don tells them to get everything out there, flapping in the breeze that they can. I don't care so much whether it's working or not, but it needs to be something out there that looks like an effort is being made. Which means that Exxon brass wants Chucco's boom off his barge and in the water. They claimed they knew nothing about a risk of explosion, and instead point fingers at the Coast Guard, saying the Coast Guard wouldn't allow them to boom. State officials were skeptical, they believed Exxon was just trying to cover for their slow response. Meanwhile, Exxon still had 40 million gallons of oil on board the Valdez, and another tanker was en route to get it off and take the product to market. Finally, 12 hours after the replacement tanker arrived, and 32 hours after the Exxon Valdez began leaking oil, Chuc gets the call from Exxon. Get your boom out there immediately. As his plane banks hard right to begin the descent back into Valdez, Chuc takes one last look down at the bright orange boom tucked in around the Exxon Valdez and the replacement tanker. Three days of hard work to accomplish nothing. Exxon continues to maintain a positive public face to the world. They point to the skimmer boats they've managed to get out on the water. By Sunday night, they've already picked up 12,000 gallons of oil, but the reality is there are still 11 million gallons out on the sound. There's only so much a handful of boats can do in a spill of that size. But the weather is calm and clear. Conditions are ideal to really ramp things up in the days ahead. More equipment is on its way from Texas, Florida, even London, and while they wait, Exxon has a new plan, burning the oil off the water. It's a high risk method, but when it works, it can burn off 2,000 gallons of oil per minute. A good, successful burn would need just 6 minutes to do the work those skimmer boats have done in 3 days. But when they test the method on Sunday, giant pillars of smoke envelop the shoreline and the fumes sickened dozens of inhabitants of a nearby village. They scrap the burn plan, but Exxon still has an ace up its sleeve, dispersons, controversial chemicals that can be sprayed onto even the largest oil spills from the air. No one knows what they're made of exactly because the oil companies consider the ingredients trade secrets. But Exxon is convinced that they are the magic bullet. Dispersons break up the oil into tiny droplets, helping it break down and disintegrate more quickly. This process also causes the oil to sink below the surface and disappear from view, which will go a long way in helping Exxon's PR problems. The problem is, both the dispersons and the oil they drive underwater are potentially toxic to fish and underwater organisms, so the Coast Guard won't approve spraying without testing. No one really knows the kind of damage the chemicals could do to the pristine environment around Prince William Sound. An Exxon's first test doesn't go so well. The planes miss their target, and instead, douse chemicals onto the emergency workers on the deck of the Exxon Baudis. Where they did manage to get closer to the target, the chemicals failed completely. No impact on the spill at all. But Exxon isn't giving up. There is another test scheduled for this evening. It's Exxon's last chance to get the situation under control, and they are determined to make it work. At 8.15 pm on Easter Sunday, an Exxon press conference is underway at the Valdez Civic Center. It's become a twice daily routine since the spill began two days ago. Onstage sits Exxon shipping president Frank Ayurasi. His clothes are clean pressed and neat, but he's been awake for three days straight, and his worn, pale face shows every minute of it as he listens to a reporter's question. The same question has been asked at every press conference every day since the spill. Mr. Ayurasi, I have to admit I'm confused. Your people keep saying you're doing an exemplary job in the oil cleanup, and yet it appears Exxon is doing very little of substance in terms of visible cleanup activity on the water. Ayurasi sighs and gives him the same answer he gave at different reporter yesterday. There's a very easy explanation. Mechanical cleanup, like we're doing now, is very slow. There is no way we will handle this bill with all the skimmers in the world. We must begin to use dispersants. Another reporter stands up with a question. He's still wearing a bunny costume from the Easter Egg Hunt earlier in the day. Mr. Ayurasi, now you've talked to the skipper Captain Hazelwood, Drac? No. Have your people spoken to him? Ayurasi shakes his head. As of this afternoon, no. Is it true that the Coast Guard suspects the captain had been drinking? The Coast Guard official sitting next to Ayurasi leans over to the mic. I think that's probably in the area of rumor. I guess I've heard the same rumors as you have, but we can't go on that. Rikkiah is sitting in the back of the room next to Jack Lann, and she's pissed. Not only is Exxon continuing to insist dispersants are an effective solution to the spill without mentioning that they're toxic. This focus on Hazelwood is irrelevant. She whispers to Jack. What difference does it make if he had a drink? How does that solve the problem now? Jack nods. They're asking the wrong questions. Rikkiah has sat through every one of these press conferences since the spill, and one thing has become clear to her. When you've got the money and the platform, you get to say whatever you want, and keep repeating it until it becomes true. Rikkiah is worried. She knows an entire ecosystem is imperiled along with a way of life for tens of thousands of people. If this spill doesn't get clean up, it'll take decades for Prince William's sound to recover, and until it does, nearly the entire population will be out of work. That's the information that people need to hear. But no one wants to talk about that. Instead, a man in an Easter bunny costume, wants to know if Captain Hazelwood had a drink on the night of the accident. What a circus. Less than half a mile down the road from the press conference, Captain Hazelwood peers out from behind the heavy curtains of his room at the Westmark Hotel. Out in the parking lot, TV news vans and satellite trucks are set up. Their crews hunkered down inside. There's a winter storm coming in. Christ Hazelwood thinks, I should be off the coast of California by now. I bet it's not snowing in Long Beach. Instead, he's stuck in this worn, dark hotel room, earning through cigarettes, pacing alone. He did have a visit from the state police for a blood alcohol test about 10 hours after he got off the valdes, but still not a word from Exxon, not even a phone call since they pulled him off the ship. Which is surprising, given the Exxon Corporation has taken over the entire hotel. There's spill command centers downstairs just off the lobby. The parking lot is packed with rental cars and bright red official Allieska trucks. The ones pissed off locals have started throwing rocks at on the streets of Valdes. Hazelwood hears Exxon employees in the halls, doors slamming at all hours at the night. But no one checks in on Hazelwood. When his phone does ring, it's the National Transportation Safety Board, or NTSB. They're investigating the accident and they want to interview him, find out what happened. That's what everyone wants to know. And Hazelwood knows exactly what happened. Gregory Cousins, the third mate, missed a turn. One 10 degree shift to the right, that's all Hazelwood asking to do. And if he had done it right, all these people running around the hotel would still be in Houston or London, or wherever the hell these people flew in from. The story is so simple, it's boring. And that's Joe Hazelwood's problem. Simple and boring isn't going to cut it for these news trucks outside. The reporters need a good story, and a good story has to have a good fill in. Hazelwood is pretty sure it's going to be him. Not that he's going to do anything about it. Joseph Hazelwood might work for one of the largest companies in the world, but he's a sailor first. He lives by a code. The captain is master of his ship. What happens on the ship is the captain's responsibility. He's not going to rat out a fellow sailor or try to massage the message to save himself. He's going to keep his mouth shut and take his lumps like a man. The phone rings again in his room. He knows it's the NTSB calling. Wanting to set up an interview. He just lets it ring. The next morning, fisherman Ricky Ott makes her way to the ballroom of the Valdez Civic Center. But it's not for another Exxon press conference. And there aren't any oil executives and freshly pressed suits on stage. Today, the stage is filled with fishermen, including Jack Lamb and a handful of others who have flown in from Cordova. This is Jack's brainchild. The Cordova District Fisherman's Union's first press conference. And it promises to be unlike anything the media has seen so far. The fishermen aren't public speakers, experts or academics. They don't have the media training or formal education of Exxon's PR men. Yet here they are, in their parkos and work clothes, staring into the bright glare of a national media spotlight, determined that their voices be heard. Fisherman David Grimes steps up the microphone. He jams his calloused hands into his pockets to hide his nerves. He tells reporters how his friends are walking around shellshocked, as if they've lost a son or a daughter. How they feel a sense of violation in their home. A loss of innocence. He talks about how everyone has known for years that Aliasca wasn't ready for a spill. Not the oil companies, not the government, and no one did anything about it. He says, we predicted this very thing would happen. The preparation for this kind of spill was pathetic. All along it was pathetic. One by one, men and women follow David to the microphone and share their fears. An ecosystem poisoned, dead seals, otters, whales, and fish. Their livelihood. They've got families to feed. Boat and permit payments are due. How are they going to make ends meet? What is going to happen to their industry and what is Exxon going to do about it? Jack Lam is the last to speak. His clothes are rumpled, and his bags under his eyes from lack of sleep. He announces to the reporters that the fishermen are prepared to take action to do what Exxon has not. They have 70 boats, fueled up and ready to go. They got them ready the morning the spill began. He says they've reached out to Aliasca and Exxon numerous times to tell the companies they're prepared to do everything they can. But no one will return their calls. The executives at the Exxon Command Center in Valdez don't have time for Jack's calls. They've been busy lining up permission to spray the sound with dispersants. Their first day of testing was a disaster, but yesterday everything fell in place. The weather was perfect. The pilots nailed their targets. And on cue, the oil disappeared right before the eyes of the Coast Guard observers. At 6.45 pm, the Coast Guard finally gave their permission to begin spraying in areas deemed less environmentally sensitive. It's the go ahead Exxon had been hoping for, but it's too late. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion, or you woke up in the morgue, or you were seriously injured miles from help? What would you do? This is actually happening. Ask our listeners this very question while we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance. This is actually happening brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil, or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives. Even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening is available ad free only with Wondry Plus. And if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondry Plus subscribers. Join Wondry Plus on Apple Podcasts or on the Wondry app. On early Monday morning, a bruiseful winter storm rolls into Prince William's sound. Freezing rains rake the shore. Out on the sound, winds reach 73 miles per hour and slam wave after wave against the wounded hull of the Exxon Valdez. The tanker rocks back and forth, groaning with every surge. The winds drive the uncontained oil spill 40 miles further southwest deep into the sound, almost out to the open sea. Heavy winds toss giant black clouds high above the waterline and into the towering spruces and cliffs around the pristine beaches. They whip the oil on the surface of the sea into an oily froth that marine pollution experts call moose. It's thick and sticks to everything it touches and it's incredibly difficult to clean up. Back in Valdez, Exxon shipping president Frank Ayurasi stares out the window of the Exxon Emergency Command Center just off the lobby of the West Marco Hotel, watching the freezing rain and the winds screaming down off the mountains just north of town. Since he arrived three days ago, Frank has had a plan, contain the spill with a floating fence known as Boom. Pick up what you can with the skimmer boats, then douse everything else with chemical dispersants, make the oil disappear. But this storm has shredded all of the boom they've got out there, including the fence they had such a hard time getting up around the Valdez itself. And the skimmer boats aren't going to be much used with the viscous pudding like moose. Most skimmers can't handle moose, their pumps choke on it. And now, it looks like Exxon's trump card and the last best hope is fading away. Moose is impervious to chemical dispersants. It's too tough to thick and once it forms, it stays that way. Frank's had three days of com seas and sunny skies perfect weather for a cleanup, strangely perfect for this time of the year. And now, just when he felt like he was getting a handle on this thing, winter has returned with inventions. Frank turns to his deputy sitting behind him at a conference table, put the dispersant test on hold, he says, we need a new plan. That evening, reporters brave the wind and rain to file back into the Valdez Civic Center for another Exxon press conference. But tonight, a new face sits behind the microphone, smooth talking PR savvy Exxon executive Don Cornette. Rumors about Captain Hazelwood's drinking have been quietly making the rounds for four days, and tonight Don wants to address them. Exxon's known all along that Hazelwood's personal history with alcohol was a time bomb waiting to explode, but Don's not here to cover that up. Tonight, he's going to like the fuse. He tells the reporters that Exxon has conducted an investigation of the ship to find out what caused it to crash into Blyreef, and the investigation has found no mechanical or electrical problems on board. Instead, Don tells them their investigation is now turning to the actions of the captain. But Don says he's not going to tell them anything about Hazelwood. In fact, Exxon's not going to comment on Hazelwood at all anymore, not until the state and NTSB investigations are resolved. Then Don adds, and I believe you can understand the reason behind that. It's probably the most alluring, inviting, no comment in history. By telling them he can't talk about Hazelwood, Don is making sure the reporters give the captain a good, hard look. So the reporters file back out into the wind and rain, and start looking. Back in Cordova, a handful of fishermen wait out the storm at the Union Hall. They're not going to be able to sleep anyway. Too much anxiety. Too much fear. So they're still here, huddled around the CB radio, waiting for reports from the fishermen stranded out on the sound in the storm. The guys at the Union Hall want to get out there too. They want to help. They're ready to do anything they can to try to save their fishing season and help clean up the sea they love. A fisherman out on the sound radios in and tells the men he's sheltering in a cove from your night island. 50 miles southwest of the Exxon Boundese, and it's bad. Moose everywhere. The wind is tossing thick globs of it 50 feet into the air, into the spruce trees that line the sound. Might as well turn in for the night, he advises. No one's doing anything until this storm lets up. It's infuriating news. Three days ago, Jack Lamb told them to have their boats ready to go out and fight the spill. But since then, they've just been told to wait. Now they're forced to wait even longer until the storm abates. Some of the guys start to mutter. Maybe Jack's getting a little too cozy with all those big wigs up in Valdez. I mean, what the hell is he doing? Press conferences? We don't need that. We need action. We need someone to give us a shot at this thing. At 10pm on Monday night, Rick Steiner and Ricky Ott are holed up 70 miles from Cordova at Seahawksy Foods in Valdez when the storm starts the comb. Ordinarily, the bunkhouse will be full of workers getting ready for the herring season to begin. Fish canners and cleaners, but there might not be a season this year. So tonight, the only two inhabitants are sitting up in the summer camp style bunk beds, studying maps when Jack Lamb bursts through the door. Before they can speak, Jack holds up a hand and tells them to gather the things, including their charts and maps. A state official reached out to Jack after hearing his statement about the 70 fisherman boats ready to jump into action. He set up a sit down with the president of AXON. This is their chance. At midnight, the three fishermen trudged across the empty parking lot of the department of environmental conservation, the DEC in Valdez. The town is dead quiet in the wake of the storm. As they enter the dark squat building, they peek into empty offices, rows of desks scattered with papers lined the walls. The only light is from the eerie glow of computer monitors, styrofoam cups, and the remains of takeout meals are scattered across the floor, a testament to the long, panic day since the spill. When the fisherman entered the conference room, the air is already thick with cigarette smoke. Around a rectangular table sit AXON shipping president Frank Ayurasi, a Coast Guard Admiral, and a handful of aids, all clean cut man and smart suits and ties. Ricky's taken a back. These guys must change clothes eight times a day. Ricky and the fishermen are still wearing the same clothes they wore four days ago when they got news of the spill. None of them have been home since. Not the shower or shave, even comb their hair. Their eyes are bloodshot from lack of sleep. They look awful, and they smell even worse. And now, in a room of oil executives, state officials and Coast Guard officers, they couldn't feel more out of place. Rick Steiner points to a map of Prince William's sound up on the wall. Is this your map? Frank Ayurasi nods. Rick walks over and studies it, then traces a set of lines to apalgate rock where he and Jack Lamb touched down yesterday. What are these markings? Those are the currents when we think the oil is going to go next. Rick shakes his head. You've got it all wrong. The oil is already there. Here, look at this. He unrolls his own heavily marked chart of Prince William's sound and lays it on the table. Then traces a path from apalgate rock to a point two miles southwest. This is where the oil is going to be tomorrow. Ayurasi leans in. Curious and surprised. You sure about that? You can't stop this spill from traveling, not anymore. But we can still protect a few key areas. These salmon hatcheries here. Rick grabs Frank's pen and checks off several spots around the periphery of the sound miles from the spill. These hatcheries are very important. They're like farms. If we lose our wild salmon stock due to the spill, these hatcheries might be able to replenish the sound. We have to keep them safe from the oil. We've got 70 boats ready to go. We just need a little help from you guys. Ayurasi takes it all in and then asks Jack a few questions about the type of equipment that fishermen need. How many men are ready to go? It's an unusual scene. Ricky thinks that someone were to look in the window right now. They'd see executives and suits and fishermen and four day old flannels all working together. And for the first time in days, she feels a glimmer of hope. Jack lays out everything he thinks the fisherman will need to protect the hatcheries. Boom, helicopters, gear. Then it's up to Ayurasi. He takes his pen back from Rick, clicks it open and clicks it closed. All the eyes in the room are on him as he appears to weigh and consider. Finally, he jots something down on the back of a business card and hands it to Ricky. She turns it over. Good for up to $1 million. Signed Frank Ayurasi, president, exon shipping. Exon has routed millions of dollars into new Alaskan bank accounts to fund the cleanup operation. But they haven't yet had the time to get any actual checks printed. This is as close to writing a check as Frank can get right now. Take this to the bank in the morning and that'll get you what you need. You need any other equipment, you call our operations center. Good luck to you. The fishermen are finally going to get their chance to take a crack at the spill and it feels like a huge victory. The Exon brass are happy too. A busy fisherman is a quiet fisherman. It's hard to fight Exon when you're knee deep in oil, miles out on Prince William's sound. And that is a huge victory for the Exon corporation. The next morning, dozens of fishing boats roar out of Cordoba Harbor into Prince William's sound. Fishermen shout in the cold wind, exhilarated, finally freed from the sitting and waiting, the wandering and not knowing. The presence still looked grim, but if they can protect the hatcheries in the sound, at least they stand a chance of seeing a future again. The fishermen call themselves the mosquito fleet, nod to the tiny size of their ships. The group includes fishermen of every kind, rookies, veterans, ex hippies, grizzled natives. And they're armed with the best weapon they've got for this battle, the standard household five gallon bucket. A five gallon bucket might not look like much to most people, but these buckets are part of the lifeblood of the town. They're used to collect herring row, the tiny translucent eggs that sell for a fortune on the Japanese seafood market. Normally this time of year, fishermen fill up hundreds of these buckets with eggs to salt them. Now, all the buckets have been collected to help with the oil cleanup. The fishermen know it will take a lot of buckets and a lot of elbow grease to scoop out 11 million gallons of oil. But they're not afraid of hard work, and they plan to do it one five gallon bucket at a time. While Exxon appears to be floundering about what to do next, the fishermen get busy attacking the spill to protect the hatcheries. Each boat lays a short floating fence of boom around a section of oil. Then bucket by bucket, they haul the thick, reeking goo into the holes of their boats. They have to scoop around the bodies of birds and fish and other debris. Oil splashes up their arms and over their clothes, but the fishermen don't care. They're used to getting their hands dirty and getting soaked by these frigid waters, and they're happy to finally be back on the water, doing something. On Tuesday evening, March 28th, Rick Steiner sits alone in an empty courtroom in the state office building in Valtese. The mosquito fleet is still out on the sound collecting buckets of oil, but he agreed to stay behind to act as liaison between the fishermen and Exxon. And since the state couldn't find a proper office for Rick in Valtese, this courtroom is his new headquarters. At 6 p.m. a call comes in over the CB radio with news from the fleet. The first hatchery is protected, sealed off from the spill by a fence of boom. Through the fuzz and static, he hears cheers and shouts, but Rick doesn't feel elated. Exxon might have appeared receptive to the fishermen last night, but today has been a different story. Rick is in charge of obtaining additional equipment for the mosquito fleet. Only one hatchery is safe, and there are two more to go. After that, hundreds of streams and spawning areas need to be fenced off, and they're going to need a lot more than buckets and a few yards of Exxon's flimsy pond boom to do it. They need ocean boom, more skimmers, more people out on the water. They also need more cold weather gear and food, and a place to wash the oil off their boats and themselves. But so far, he's had little luck in securing any of it. All day, Rick's calls Exxon have been redirected, shuttle back and forth through its sprawling bureaucracy. One person tells him a section of boom was on its way, then another person says it's still days out. Someone else assures him protective gear is en route. Another says that the request was never received. Meanwhile, the fishermen are still out there with nothing but the buckets and clothes they brought from home. It's starting to dawn on, Rick, that Frank Iarasi's million dollar business card wasn't a gift. It was bait, and the fisherman took it, hook line and sinker. He sits down in the jury box, looks around the empty courtroom and thinks, God, someday I hope to see these oil guys sitting behind that defense table over there. And that day is coming, but it's still years away. As the last of the mosquito flea just pulling into Cordova Harbor, Ricky Ott and Jack Lam are pushing their way into the high school gymnasium for a town meeting. Both fishermen stayed behind to make this event, and when they arrive, the gym is already packed with over 2,000 people. Fishermen, their families, many of them are worn and ragged, bundled into parkers, some just back in from fighting the spill all day. They're exhausted, they're furious, and they're ready to air their grievances to Exxon. They've been told the company is sending someone to talk to them, but the fishermen still aren't sure who it is. It won't be Frank Iarasi. After four days of battles with journalists and fishermen alike, Exxon has realized Frank isn't the leader they need facing the public right now. Frank is an engineer. He's a detailed guy, and he's exhausted by the daily grind of press conference after press conference. Exxon needs someone who's up to the fight. Each night, television viewers are watching the spill spread and the cleanup falter. Now people are throwing rocks through Exxon filling station windows, they're calling in death threats to Exxon corporate offices. Stock is down, and their profits are starting to take a hit. Some consumers are even beginning to boycott their gas. Exxon needs a new general to marshal their forces to turn this PR war around, and they pick the helmet haired Kentucky and Don Cornet, Exxon's head of Alaska operations. Don's smooth, he's confident, and he's fearless. And while Frank might have been exhausted by his daily sparring sessions with the press, Don finds them invigorating. Now he's ready to take the fight to Cordova, and the fishermen who haven't been doing Exxon any favors in the press. That morning, the Alliasca emergency center records a call between Don and a fellow executive, where Don says, Do you know how I feel? Do you remember when Patton got out over that battlefield and said, God help me. When they were going to invade Europe, he said, God wouldn't let this happen and not let me be in on it. That's how I feel. Now Cornet is staring down a battalion of raging fishermen on their home turf, and he's ready to reel them in. He stands in front of the crowd smiling in a short sleeve golf shirt, his skin gently tanned as if he's warmed by the hot Houston sun everywhere he goes. His gold watch glints under the gymnasium lights. You have had some good luck, and you don't realize it. You have Exxon, and we do business straight. We will consider whatever it takes to keep you whole. What have you lost at this point that I can compensate you for? But if your nets don't fill up, that we can take care of. If you can show that your motel knows how to business, that we can take care of. A fisherman stands and asks if it's going to take 20 years to get these claims settled. Don answers with a smile. I guarantee you we have never had a claim go 20 years. The answer to the question is no. And he's right, it won't. It's going to take 19 years, three months, and one day. But the fishermen don't know that yet. Right now, all they know is they could really use some money. The town of Cordoba is staring down the prospect of nearly 100% unemployment. Revenue is down to zero overnight, mass bankruptcies. And here's a guy with access to billions of dollars, saying he's going to make them whole. The fisherman may be furious at Exxon, but they're listening. The next day, a news flash takes the media spotlight off the spill and puts it on Joseph Hazelwood, the captain of the Exxon Valdez. The Anchorage Daily News reports that Captain Hazelwood has a record of three alcohol arrests. His driver's license is suspended. According to his home state of New York, Hazelwood shouldn't be trusted behind the wheel of a Corolla. Let alone a thousand foot super tanker. Governor Steve Cooper tells the paper that the state of Alaska is beginning a criminal investigation immediately. Reporters have been digging into the captain's history and they've hit Paydirt. Now the facts burst out into the open for everyone to see. The press is going all Hazelwood all the time. And that is good news for Exxon. The country is still mad at the company, sure. But it's hard to be mad at a corporation. It's too abstract, too diffuse. It's much better to have an actual person to pin this whole thing on. And now the press has finally found their guy, except that they can't actually find Joseph Hazelwood. He's disappeared. Not a trace. On Tuesday night, an Alaskan air flight leaves Valdese for Anchorage. Inside the cabin sits a tall, balding man with a round, clean, shaving face and bloodshot eyes. He looks tired and a bit unsteady as he drops into a seat. Sir, can I get you something to drink? Double Scotch, please. Need. Are you okay, sir? I'm fine. Just a double Scotch, please. The flight attendant hesitates. This guy seems to have had enough already. And he looks familiar. Balled head, piercing eyes. Round baby face, clean, shaving? Hmm, maybe not. The man hunches his shoulders, holds up his collar, and turns toward the window as the flight attendant moves on. He rubs at his smooth cheeks. His face feels strange without his beard. But he had to lose it. Gave him away. A new look for a new role. A Captain Joseph Hazelwood. Fugitive. On April 4, 1989, one week after Don Cornette promised the fisherman of Cordova compensation for any spill related hardships, Ricky Ott is deep and thought as she shoulders her way through a mass of people on a Cordova sidewalk. After that meeting when Don Cornette promised compensation for spill related losses, it feels like the town changed overnight. It used to be that you knew everyone you saw around town, and you knew what they were fishing and what their boat was called. Now, there are new faces everywhere. New boats in the harbor, and the hotels are completely full. While Joseph Hazelwood's disappearance is still front page news, the citizens of Cordova have more immediate concerns, like filing a claim and getting some of that money Don Cornette promised. As Ricky ducks into a cafe, she sees two perfectly polished patented leather shoes blocking her way. Above those, a pair of pristine white spats that aren't impossibly clean, given all the springtime mud everyone's trudging through town. Expensive suit. Carnation in the lapel. This guy's not from Cordova, she thinks. Ricky recognizes him from television. He's Melvin Belli, celebrity attorney extraordinaire. The press call him the king of torts. He's represented the rolling stones, Muhammad Ali, and Jim and Tammy Faye Baker. He's not choosy about his clients, as long as there's money involved. And now, the money's led him here to Cordova. Melvin's looking for clients who are willing to sue, and he's going after some of Exxon's billions. He holds out a business card and smiles at Ricky. She nods politely, keeping her hands in her pockets, and pushes past into the cafe. Word has gotten out. There's money to be made on Prince William's sound. And just like the gold and silver rushes of the past, prospectors are flooding into Alaska from all over the world, looking to stake their claim. Lawyers, insurance adjusters, politicians, journalists, and the unemployed. Thousands of people just looking for a steady wage working cleanup. This isn't just an oil spill anymore. Now, it's a money spill, and Cordova will never be the same. From Wondry, this is episode two of five of Exxon Valdes for American scandal. On the next episode, as oil spreads hundreds of miles down the Alaskan coast, Exxon gets new marking orders from the President of the United States. Meanwhile, the fishermen of Cordova begin to turn on each other. If you'd like to learn more about the Exxon Valdes spill, we recommend the books Not One Drop by Ricky Ott, an out of the channel by John Keyball. This episode contains reenactments and dramatized details. And while in most cases we can't know exactly what was said, all of our traumatizations are based on historical research. American scandal is hosted, edited, sound designed, and executive produced by me, Lindsey Graham, for an airship. Additional production assistance by Derek Barrett's. This episode is written by Benjamin Gray, edited by Andrew Stelser. Executive producers are Stephanie Jenns, Marsha Louis, and her nonloaf has for Wondry.