Mississippi Fishermen Sue BP for Refusing to Decontaminate Their Boats as Promised


In the first of many likely lawsuits over how BP conducted its “Vessels of Opportunity” (VoO) program, 20 Mississippi fishermen have had enough – suing BP in federal court. The fishermen assert that the oil giant chartered their boats after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill but has refused to decontaminate the vessels as promised.

Expect more of the same across the Gulf in one of the more outrageous stories of post-spill BP negligence. These fishermen risked their health to cleanup the mess BP made, and this is the thanks they get? Frankly, I’m preparing similar actions for some of my clients so this comes as no surprise. BP has been virtually non-responsive in many cases and it’s becoming a serious problem.

Some “Vessels of Opportunity” participants say BP has not removed the oil from their boats and/or they can’t get final documentation on decontamination. None of these captains are going to start charter work until the boat cleanup – and necessary documentation – is 100 percent complete.

The Courthouse News service reports that the fishermen contend that, not only did BP not decontaminate their charter boats as promised, but that the company’s charter requirements prevented them “from using their vessels in any ways other than BP-designated work, until final decontamination or verification of final decontamination…[and] on or about September 2, 2010, plaintiffs, or most of them, received correspondence from BP purporting to terminate the charters, but BP has failed to perform decontamination of many of plaintiffs’ vessels and/or has failed to pay plaintiffs through verification of final contamination.”

Hey, most of these boat captains removed their own equipment and made room for BP’s equipment. Most had to sign agreements that gave BP exclusive use of their boats, so they were not open to new charters even when that became possible. And the boats worked in heavy oil so a spray-clean doesn’t cut it – they need documented decontamination.

The lawsuit also outlines the huge scope of the problem. The CN story says that “…a July 7, 2010 log from the Vessels of Opportunity Program shows that BP had more than 5,000 commercial and personal fishing vessels ready to put in the water, with an average of 3,000 vessels in the water daily, more than 85 percent of which were registered as commercial or charter fishing vessels.”

As it stands now, this case and others like it might be consolidated with most other spill-related claims before New Orleans Federal Judge Carl Barbier.

Find the CN story here: http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/01/13/33280.htm

© Smith Stag, LLC 2010 – All Rights Reserved

1 comment

  • I called and left a message with VOO regarding the presence of oil on portions of my boat after I was dismissed from VOO duties. I’m going to use their action or lack of it to determine if I hire a lawyer. We were told that we would have our vessels restored to pre-spill conditions. I had just done a bottom job on the boat and my topside paint was less than 18 months old when I was called by VOO.
    The solvents and steam used to remove the oil removed the bottom paint at the waterline and dulled the topside paint to a chalky mess. I’m taking a wait and see attitude and if they have not paid for the haulout, the paint, the labor, and the missed business caused by that, I WILL sue.
    Best of Luck to ALL my captain friends.
    Capt. Jim Stone, Pensacola FL

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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