Exxon faces dollars 15bn bill for Valdez disaster

EXXON Corporation faces claims for billions of dollars in damages after losing the crucial first round of a legal battle over the Exxon Valdez oil spill five years ago.

A federal jury in Anchorage, Alaska, yesterday decided that recklessness by the corporation and the tanker's captain, Joseph Hazelwood, had contributed to the disaster, in which 11 millions gallons of crude oil spilled into Prince William Sound after the tanker ran aground.

The panel's verdict, after more than four days of deliberations, clears the way for the next phase of the case in which more than 10,000 Alaskan fishermen, villagers and property owners are seeking about dollars 15bn in punitive damages from the company, and from Captain Hazelwood. They also want Exxon - which has already paid dollars 3.4bn in damages, penalties, and clean-up costs - and the captain to pay dollars 1.5bn compensation for the economic harm caused by the spill, which coated 1,500 miles of coastline with oil and killed thousands of sea birds and marine mammals.

The plaintiffs centred their claims on contentions that Capt Hazelwood was drunk on duty, and that Exxon Corporation knew for years that he had a serious drinking problem but left him in command.

In New York, Exxon's shares closed sharply lower, off dollars 27 8 at dollars 591 4 .

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