The Exxon Valdez is undergoing preparatory work at the National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. facility in San Diego for the anticipated move into dry dock during the week of Aug. 14.
Four months after spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil in Alaskan waters, the crippled tanker sailed past a flotilla of environmentalist protesters Sunday and was nudged by tugboats into the shipyard that first sent it to sea two-and-a-half years ago.The slow trip into San Diego harbor under the scrutiny of several dozen ships, five circling helicopters and hundreds of shore-bound spectators might have been the tanker's last trip as the Exxon Valdez.
The ship may be renamed by Exxon Shipping Co. before it is put back in service, company President Frank Iarossi said Sunday.
Al Lutter, senior vice president at National Steel & Shipbuilding Co., said workers were welding brackets on the hull of the crippled tanker Monday to strengthen its bottom for dry-docking.
Also, ballast from undamaged tanks will be transferred to another Exxon Shipping Co. vessel in order to gradually raise the draft of the Exxon Valdez to 18 feet in preparation for dry dock.
When the appropriate draft is attained, and tides in San Diego harbor are at their peak, the tanker will be moved to dry dock for a nine-month, $25 million repair job.
"We will have a tide window from about Aug. 14 to the 18th," Mr. Lutter said. "We'll probably bring it into dry dock on the 14th or 15th," he added.
In the meantime, workers will continue to reinforce the hull of the vessel and to take samples of sea water to make certain any fluids coming from the tanker are marine life rather than oil.
The Valdez's 2,200-mile voyage finished much as it started, amid controversy. Protesters from the environmentalist group Greenpeace shadowed the tanker in sailboats and rubber powerboats, flying banners with slogans like "Change the course, steer toward sane energy."
But they made no attempt to block the tanker's entrance into the harbor and honored a safety zone of 300 yards established by the Coast Guard.
''They have a right to be out there," Coast Guard Lt. Larry Solberg said. "They want to make their views known, and we have no problem with that."
Ironically, the ship was guided through the harbor by Edward Silva, a harbor pilot who is a member of Greenpeace.
The tanker's entry into the harbor was delayed for about three weeks, after state officials said it had been the source of several oil slicks that appeared off San Diego - a contention that Mr. Iarossi denied again Sunday. In addition, divers had to cut away large steel plates that ripped loose during the trip from Alaska and were dangling from the ship's bottom.
Flanked by six tugboats and 10 Coast Guard salvage and recovery vessels, the 987-foot supertanker moved under its own power most of the way from the mouth of the harbor to the National Steel shipyard. It was pushed stern-first into a temporary berth, where it is to be re-inspected before being taken next month to the shipyard's graving dock for repairs expected to take nine months and cost at least $25 million.