The Coast Guard today dismissed charges of intoxication and misconduct against former Exxon Valdez Capt. Joseph Hazelwood, and the skipper pleaded no contest to two lesser charges.
The plea agreement was revealed at the opening of a Coast Guard hearing in Long Beach to determine whether Hazelwood can keep his captain's license. The hearing continued before an administrative judge, who will decide any sanctions.
Administrative Law Judge Harry Gardner could dismiss the charges, revoke Hazelwood's license or place him on probation, but no fine or prison term can be levied.
Hazelwood's attorney, Michael Chalos, told the judge that Hazelwood agreed to accept a 12-month suspension of his license but wants to be given credit for three months because the Coast Guard has held his license for a year.
"This man has suffered enough," Chalos told the judge. "He's a ship's captain. He wants to go back to the sea, and he wants to go back as soon as possible."
The Coast Guard dismissed a charge that Hazelwood was drunk by Coast Guard standards while he commanded the 987-foot tanker. The tanker hit a charted reef in Alaska's Prince William Sound, causing the nation's worst oil spill.
The service also dismissed a charge that Hazelwood was negligent in leaving a third mate who was not properly licensed in charge of the Exxon Valdez as it passed through the Valdez Narrows into Prince William Sound.
The Coast Guard's action in dismissing the most serious charge related to alcohol was spurred by a recent defense discovery that Hazelwood's blood sample was mishandled and the test results may have been wrong.
"We now know that the alcohol test was invalid at best and bogus at worst," Chalos said at the hearing. "This man should never have been put through this ordeal."
Hazelwood entered no contest pleas to charges that he was negligent in leaving the bridge of the tanker and that he consumed alcohol within four hours of sailing. The Coast Guard changed the language of one charge, removing the allegation that Hazelwood's behavior contributed to the tanker's grounding.
Hazelwood stood and faced the judge as he answered the remaining charges against him in a firm voice, saying, "No contest."
The alcohol charge that was dropped contended that Hazelwood had a blood alcohol level exceeding .04, the Coast Guard standard for intoxication, far lower than the Alaska state standard of .10.
Hazelwood was acquitted by a Superior Court jury in Alaska of being drunk and reckless after extensive testimony about blood alcohol tests administered to him 10 1/2 hours after the disaster. There was controversy over the accuracy of the tests because of the long delay.
The tests showed Hazelwood had a blood alcohol reading of .06, according to testimony.
Hazelwood came to the Coast Guard headquarters with two lawyers and four witnesses who had testified for him in his trial four months ago in Alaska. The witnesses were expected to testify during the hearing.