SAN DIEGO, JULY 6 -- The Exxon Valdez, infamous for its involvement in the nation's worst oil-tanker spill, has been repaired and will be returned to service next month far from Alaska with a new name -- Exxon Mediterranean.
Exxon Shipping Co. officials said the name change has nothing to do with the disastrous spill of nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil in Prince William Sound in March 1989.
"The renaming is consistent with Exxon's practice of naming vessels for the primary area they serve," Gus Elmer, the shipping company president, said at a news conference today at a hotel about a mile from the tanker's dry dock at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO).
The Exxon Mediterranean will enter foreign service, loading crude oil in the Mediterranean or Middle East, but "will remain American," Elmer said.
It will be U.S. flagged, crewed, owned and managed, he said.
"The move to foreign service is an economic decision," Elmer said, because Alaskan oil production is "steadily dropping" from its peak of 2 million barrels a day in 1988, while importation of oil into the Mideast steadily increases.
The 987-foot Exxon Valdez, named after the Alaskan port city from which it had sailed on the night of the spill, ran aground on a marked reef in the sound and spewed oil through a 650-by-80-foot hole in the hull.
Exxon Corp. and its shipping subsidiary are to stand trial next April on federal criminal charges stemming from the spill.
The charges include two felonies for allowing operation of the tanker by incompetent crew members and three misdemeanors, including violations of environmental legislation.
Joseph J. Hazelwood, captain at the time of the spill, is appealing his conviction for negligence in the incident.
Exxon has spent more than $2 billion in the unfinished spill cleanup.
Elmer, saying, "I'm not here today to talk about litigation," said Exxon has a new drug and alcohol policy that applies to captains, chief engineers and mates.
"Anyone who has had a substance-abuse problem would not be able to serve in those position," he said.
In addition, he said, all crew members are subject to random drug testing.
The tanker has been repaired to original specifications, although studies have indicated the possibility of less spillage with double hulls.
Elmer said Exxon awaits results of a National Academy of Science study on alternative vessel designs, including double hulling.
The tanker, built in 1986 for $125 million, cost $30 million to repair. Work began last August after the tanker was towed here, 2,500 miles from the reef.
The most difficult part was docking the 30,000-ton ship with its mangled bottom and less than two feet of clearance on each side of the dock, said Fred Hallett, NASSCO's chief financial officer. About 10 percent of the tanker's total steel was replaced.