The officer who was on the bridge when the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck a reef in Alaska, causing the nation's worst oil spill, has been stripped of his mate's license for nine months.
A Coast Guard administrative law judge in Seattle who called the grounding a "hell of a calamity" ordered the unusually harsh punishment for Gregory Cousins.Cousins was the third mate who was left alone on the bridge of the Exxon Valdez while the captain and first mate were below decks as the vessel steamed out of Valdez on March 24.
He was the one at the helm when the tanker struck Bligh Reef, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into Prince William Sound.
Cousins had served on Exxon ships since 1980 and had made 12 trips in and out of Valdez prior to the spill, but was not licensed to navigate in the hazardous waters of Prince William Sound.
Left in command by Capt. Joseph Hazelwood - who faces criminal charges in the incident - Cousins was charged by the Coast Guard with being negligent in keeping track of the huge tanker's positions and for failing to give steering commands to keep the ship on a safe course.
During his hearing, Cousins asked for a two-month suspension of license, and the Coast Guard recommended six months. However, Administrative Law Judge Roscoe Wilkes said the massive oil spill called for more severe punishment.
The stiffer sanctions were based on "what would a reasonably prudent navigator forsee as the consequences," Wilkes said. "What happened in this case is the best evidence of what one ought to foresee. I held the amount of negligence involved here was great."
Hazelwood is scheduled to stand trial in January on six charges stemming from the March 24 accident, including operating a ship while intoxicated.