Exxon ordered to pay dollars 5bn to Alaskans

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The Independent Online
IN THE world's largest environmental lawsuit, the oil giant Exxon has been ordered to pay dollars 5bn ( pounds 3.2bn) in damages to thousands of Alaskans over the Exxon Valdez disaster. The award is a blow to the corporation, which has fought to avoid making further payments over the spill that coated 1,500 miles of Alaskan coastline with oil and killed millions of fish, birds and other wildlife.

The damages - the largest for an oil spill - are intended to punish Exxon rather than to compensate for the havoc caused by the Exxon Valdez supertanker hitting a reef, discharging 11 million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound. The sum is less than the dollars 15bn to dollars 20bn demanded by the coalition of 14,000 fishermen, native corporations, businesses and others who brought the lawsuit. But it was greeted as victory by their lawyer, Brian O'Neill. 'Even for a large company like Exxon, this amount of money is enough to change their behaviour,' he said.

The jury in Anchorage, who deliberated for 12 days, ordered the tanker's master, Captain Joseph Hazelwood, to pay dollars 5,000. Although Exxon is likely to appeal - it described the verdict as 'shocking' - the award is not expected to do it lasting damage. With dollars 111bn annual revenues, the corporation generates more money than the GNP of many nations.

The settlement ends a trial which has deepened the bitterness that many Alaskans feel towards Exxon, following the 1989 spill. Exxon spent millions on a team of more than 40 lawyers, headed by the former Watergate prosecutor, James Neal.

Earlier in the hearing, the jury ordered Exxon to pay dollars 287m in compensation to 10,000 claimants. Exxon argued that it had spent enough, after paying nearly dollars 3bn in fines, compensation, and clean-up costs.