On March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez struck Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef, in the Gulf of Alaska, and spilled 260,000 to 750,000 barrels (41,000 to 119,000 m3) of crude oil.

As a result of the spill, the Government of Canada appointed the Public Review Panel on Tanker Safety and Marine Spill Response Capacity (Brander-Smith Panel) and adopted a large number of its recommendations. In the 24 years since the Exxon Valdez incident, many safety improvements have been undertaken by government and the tanker industry including:

  • Double-hulled tankers with increased use of bulkheads to provide segmentation of tankers and minimize potential spill volumes.
  • Tankers escort practices have been refined for added safety and tugs are often used in longer tethered escort passages with two licensed pilots on board, as in Port Metro Vancouver help minimize the probability of powered groundings such as the Exxon Valdez.
  • Improved technology provides superior bridge navigational aids and ship control systems (e.g., GPS, AIS, radar). 
  • Communications and monitoring of all vessels in Canadian waters, including specific monitoring of tankers, is undertaken by the coast guard vessel traffic service.
  • A government-certified spill response organization must be in place to ensure a prompt response (the Valdez languished for almost 72 hours before spill response efforts began). The certified response organization in BC is Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC), which has a current mandated maximum response time of 10 hours.
  • Governments have introduced or strengthened various laws to act as deterrent and incentivize good behaviour amongst companies and persons engaged in the shipping industry, including tankers.

Shipping companies must comply with the strict standards imposed on them by the International Safety Management (ISM) code. This is verified through annual external audits. Systemic failure of a company safety management system (SMS) could result in the operator being shut down.

Vessels are detained and prevented from continuing their voyages if the Port State Control (in Canada, Transport Canada) finds things are not in order onboard any vessel, Canadian or foreign.

Bills such as C-16 in Canada have given authorities the power to prosecute sub-standard persons/organizations (including CEOs), if found polluting Canadian waters.

All of the initiatives above have contributed to improved safety standards, a significant measureable reduction in tanker incidents and oil spills, including mystery spills. 

Find out more about tanker construction and safety standards here:  https://www.transmountain.com/tanker-facts