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Norway Oil Workers Strike Forcing Rig Shutdown

June 14, 2012

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At least five of Norway’s oil and gas rigs will be shut down due to a strike from Norway’s Safe Union against Baker Hughes.

 

The strike may be the first step to initiate a larger strike in Norway’s dominant export oil sector. The National Mediator set June 23 as the deadline for this year’s wage settlement between unions and the oil industry and the failed negotiations over Statoil’s ending of an early pensions deal. If another strike follows, it could result in a shut down of Norway’s daily production of 3.8 million barrels of oil.

 

Members of the union Safe are striking because their worker’s benefits were reduced by Bake Hughes. According to a deal between the union and oil rigs, workers won’t begin their strike until the operations are shut down in a safe manner.

 

Safe leader Hilde-Marie Rysst stated, “We are appalled by the arrogance and complete lack of respect of the basic principles of Norwegian labor which Baker Hughes has demonstrated to our members.” Yet, the Norwegian Oil Industry Associated claims that Baker Hughes offered the same agreement to Safe members as it offered to its 550 other employees, but the union wants to keep their previous agreement.

 

Source: http://www.maritime-executive.com/article/norway-oil-workers-strike-forcing-rig-shutdown

The Costa Concordia to be Salvaged

May 23, 2012
Costa Concordia

Plans for the Removal

The Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that struck a reef off the coast of Giglio Island on the night of January 13 is set to be removed from the water by the beginning of 2013. Titan Salvage, a company based in Pompano Beach, Florida, won the bid to remove Concordia’s wreckage. The salvage company plans to use water-filled cisterns to weigh down the above-sea side of the cruise liner in order to remove it from the water and tow it for demolition.

Capt. Richard Habib, Titan Salvage’s managing director, said the goal is to “use brains, (and) not as much brawn” to remove the Concordia without having it sink into much deeper water. He said the most difficult challenge in the procedure is to “roll the vessel upright on a platform and to safely float it” to a port yet to be selected by Italian officials.

“The magnitude of the job … is something unprecedented,” Habib told reporters at a news conference.

The Costa Concordia was carrying some 4,200 people when it veered too close to the coast and struck the jagged reef. Gashed on one side, the ship began listing on its side and came to rest on the shallow rocky seabed just off the Tuscan shore, resulting in 32 fatalities.

Currently, the Italian captain of the Concordia is under house arrest while prosecutors scrutinize him for possible manslaughter and abandoning ship while the evacuation was still in progress. Prosecutors argue that the captain steered the ship dangerously close to the island in a publicity stunt, while the captain insists the reef didn’t appear on navigational charts.

Source: CBS News http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=7408998n

100 Years, The Titanic Sinks in Atlantic (but has it in the minds of modern-day cruise operators?)

April 16, 2012
 April 14, 2012 marks 100 years since the sinking of the Titanic

April 14, 2012 marks 100 years since the sinking of the Titanic

April 14, 2012 marks 100 years that the “unsinkable” passenger ship, known as the Titanic, sunk to the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. There were 2,224 passengers on the Titanic and 1,514 of them lost their lives that tragic evening. Today, in modern-day cruising we wonder if a lesson has been learned from the fortuitous wreckage in 1912.

Now there are more lifeboats on board- enough to fit more than the number of passengers aboard. Captains and operators use radios for communication with other ships and use radar and fathometers to detect any signs of danger, like an iceberg. But somehow, ships still seem to collide with islands or ground on charted reefs, even in the clearest of weather. Perhaps it isn’t flaws in technology or communication but simply negligence, complacency and hubris that play the largest factors. These characteristics override all preventative and remedial measures available.

Other factors that increase the risk of accidents are fatigue, stress and pressure from satisfying vacationers on board by sailing close to shore, maintaining high-speed, cutting corners and engaging in other practices that increase risk. Most of the accidents on cruise ship these days do not usually result in causalities, but when they do, everyone protects themselves and blames anybody and everybody else (usually the person on the scene). It has become incumbent that owners and operators take the blame and walk the walk in desperate situations and accidents. It is worth backing up and supporting officers, masters and operators when they are being cautious. Also, spending the additional costs is necessary to do the right thing when unforeseen accidents come out of clear waters. Mastering the technology and mechanical attributes of a cruise ship still does not guarantee an “unsinkable” ship.

If problem persists, we have learned nothing from the Titanic- even 100 years later!

BP & The Health Settlement Details… Many Questions, Some Answered

March 14, 2012

The health settlement negotiated between BP and private plaintiff attorneys makes thousands of new people eligible for compensation from the oil spill. But what exactly are the medical problems that qualify for reimbursement? Does everyone who needs treatment qualify? What degree of exposure to the disaster do victims have to have?

The health program is available to 90,000 people including cleanup workers, government workers, costal residents and wetland residents who lived within a mile of wetlands for at least six months between the day of the accident and the end of 2010, though it is not clear who qualifies as a spill responder. Also, people who became ill after vacationing at the beach do not qualify and would need to file their own suit.

The health deal makes tens of thousands of people who could not file health claims under the Gulf Coast Claims Facility eligible to do so under the settlement.

Compensation for specified physical conditions include people who experienced things such as skin problems, respiratory problems, eye irritation, headaches or stomach ailments. Compensation level increases if people had medial help or can demonstrate they have developed a chronic condition since the spill.  Participants in the medical settlement will receive many tests every three years for 21 years to determine whether there have been any changes in their medical condition.

People who later manifest conditions have a right to mediate with BP or to sue BP. They do not have to prove BP is liable, just that there is a link between their condition and exposure to oil or dispersants.

A program is included in the settlement called, The Gulf Coast Region Health Outreach Program, which will create a $105 million program to increase the capacity for delivering physical and mental health care in coastal communities. These benefits will be available to anyone, regardless if they are part of the settlement. The program will create a specialist referral network to help diagnose and treat oil spill-related illnesses. The goal of this program is to expand access to communities, create links to specialty care and increase the level of coastal clinics to federally qualified health care facilities to serve Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Even though the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 does not include personal injury as cause of action, plaintiffs pursued the argument in court under maritime law.  But this agreement from BP into the health settlement means they accept the concept that there will be medical costs from the spill. That’s noteworthy of them.

Information from this post was taken from The Times Picayune, March 11, 2012. For more information on this article, Click Here.

…And the Fines Just Keep Climbing for BP

March 6, 2012

BP still facing liability in oil spill caseThe Times Picayune reported that even with private claims settlements estimated at $7.8 billion, BP still faces a possibility of owing more than $40 billion in damages and liability. Federal, state and local officials are still waiting for a conference with the U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, to determine the depth of the remaining liability that BP and other parties responsible for the oil spill owe.

Under only two federal laws, BP and other responsible parties are facing $20 billion in fines. The Clean Water Act states that any company involved in developing the Maconda well using the Deepwater Horizon drill ship could require them to pay a total of $17.6 billion in fines.  Add another $5 billion if found grossly negligent.

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990’s terms explicitly say that responsible parties are also liable for damages to natural resources and the public’s use of those resources. This act would require the companies to pay for repair projects totaling another $5 billion or more.

Smaller fines include environmental laws, including the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

The bullet doesn’t stop there. The companies could face another $15 billion in federal criminal penalties if charges are filed against BP, it’s officers or any other associated with the spill.  Since a criminal investigation began in June 2010, criminal charges would start a federal trial separate from the civil cases.

For more information on this article, visit The Times Picayune.

Maritime Injury Statistics

January 24, 2012

For maritime employees, injuries are often a part of the job.  As such, they are a cause of great concern for employees, employers and various national safety departments.  The U.S. Coast Guard keeps yearly records of offshore injuries and casualties, in their National Transportation Statistics report.  In 2009, there were a total of 4,830 commercial vessel accidents, causing 103 fatalities (including those reported dead or missing), 551 injuries, and $47 million in property damage.  While being injured at work can be frustrating and nerve wracking, some employees are suing under the Jones Act and general maritime law in order to cover their expenses and injuries.

On December 21, 2011, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an award of damages of $1,894,728.39 for an seaman, Chad Ledet, injured while working as a deckhand on Smith Marine Towing Corporation’s tug boat.  Smith Marine argued that Ledet was at fault in his injury, and therefore was not entitled to any compensation.  The Fifth Circuit upheld the Eastern District of Louisiana’s decision that Ledet was reasonable in following the captain’s orders, and was, in fact, entitled to his award of damages.  Ledet’s award broke down into $373 thousand for future wage loss, $300 thousand for past pain and suffering, $1 million in future pain and suffering, $219 thousand in medical expenses and $1,500 in maintenance and cure.

What is fair for the BP claimants?

January 18, 2012

Less than 2 years has passed since the Deep Water Horizon disaster in which 11 rig employees were killed and over 200 million gallons of crude oil was released from the bottom of the Gulf.  Claimants are starting receiving their final settlements.  As of January 10, 2012, $6.3 billion of the $20 billion BP set aside for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), a victim compensation fund headed by Ken Feinberg, has been paid out to nearly 200,000 claimants.  By contrast, the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster took nearly two decades of lengthy legal battles, for which the plaintiffs received $1.3 billion in damages.  The GCCF process has been praised by many lawyers representing claimants for being an easier and faster alternative to court for getting damages for their clients.  Some legal experts are saying that their clients have received more on average from GCCF than if they had gone to court.

However, not everyone has been as enamored with the GCCF process.  A class action suit has been filed against Feinberg and GCCF.  The plaintiffs have argued that the process is taking advantage of the dire circumstances they find themselves in.  Feinberg and GCCF have been forcing these claimants to accept quick settlements, that are followed by promises not to sue because they are offered no other viable option.  Whether you believe the process is fair or predatory, some claimants are getting money now, when they can’t afford to wait another week.

Judge Barbier’s escrow order challenged

January 13, 2012

On January 4, Judge Barbier clarified his order to hold 6% of claimants’ settlements for attorneys’ fees by stating that only those settlements who hadn’t received a determination letter from BP as of Dec 31st would be affected.  Barbier intends this money to be held in an escrow account so that the attorneys who make up the Plaintiff’s Steering Committee (PSC) may later petition to receive those funds as payment for their services.  However, should Barbier decide that the PSC has not fulfilled its obligations, or should BP have to pay PSC lawyers’ fees, the money will be refunded back to the original claimants.  Those claimants who decide to sue, rather than accept the settlement proposed by Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF), will not see the 6% reduction in their award.  Instead, the 6% assessment will be taken from the fee they agreed to pay their attorneys.

One of the 19 lawyers on the PSC says withholding the money is justified because the PSC is doing basic work that all claimants will benefit from.  However, many other attorneys and the department of Justice argue that the only work PSC has done was to prepare for a 3-part trial to begin Feb 27, which is based in maritime law.  The problem is that the judge has already ruled that the claimants cannot sue under maritime law because they lack standing.  Instead the claimants can only make claims under the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) against BP, or go through the GCCF.  It is inherently unfair and against the principles of the OPA to force claimants to pay for legal fees that will, by Barbier’s own decision, not benefit their claims.  The Department of Justice, Florida Attorney General Bondi, and a number of attorneys have petitioned to have Barbier’s order retracted.

The Jones Act, what is it and how does it help?

January 9, 2012

The Merchant Marine Act of 1920, better known as the Jones Act, regulates maritime commerce in the U.S. waters and between U.S. ports.  The act covers employees of U.S. ships who suffered personal injury, illness, or death during the course of their employment.  The Jones act allows those injured employees to seek damages in a trial by jury.  This act primarily protects those employees who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents, but may protect others under certain circumstances.  A non-U.S. employee may recover under the Jones Act if he or she was injured while working on a U.S. ship, in U.S. waters, if the ship was constructed to transport cargo, and was in fact transporting cargo.  The employee may recover regardless of whether (s)he or the employer was at fault.

In addition to damages for injuries, an employee may also recover for “unseaworthiness” and “maintenance and cure”.  Unseaworthiness can be seen as punitive damages, as it covers such injuries as pain and suffering, impairment of earning potential, hospital bills, and other reasonable losses from the original injury.  Unseaworthiness can be recovered even if the employee is found guilty of contributory negligence (shared negligence); the amount of recovery will, however, be reduced.  While an employee may be rejected under the Jones Act or Unseaworthiness, he or she may recover under Maintenance and Cure by proving only that the injury was sustained during the course of employment. Generally, a claim must be brought within 3 years of the injury.

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