Joseph Hazelwood, captain of the Exxon Valdez tanker that caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history, failed Friday to halt the criminal court case against him brought by the state of Alaska.
Hazelwood's lawyers claimed that the Exxon skipper was protected from criminal charges by a federal oil spill reporting law that makes it a crime not to report a spill and grants immunity for volunteering the information. Once Hazelwood reported the spill and lost his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, he gained immunity for reporting the spill, according to his lawyers.
But U.S. District Judge Andrew Kleinfeld told Hazelwood: "It seems like a real possibility someone might have noticed an oil spill the size of Rhode Island, whether or not it was called in."
The judge refused to rule on the merits of the argument and said the immunity issue would be decided in Hazelwood's criminal trial. Hazelwood is scheduled to appear in Alaska Superior Court in Anchorage on Jan. 22.
Hazelwood, 43, of Huntington, N.Y., looked perplexed at the complex, technical and legalistic arguments over the future of his case.
Hazelwood was skipper of the Exxon Valdez when it ran aground on March 24, spilling nearly 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaskan waters.
State prosecutors charged Hazelwood with three felony counts of criminal mischief and three misdemeanors: operating the tanker while intoxicated, reckless endangerment and negligent discharge of oil.