Vessels of Opportunity Lawsuit filed against BP Oil

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The law firm of Taylor Martino, P.C. filed the first of many Vessels of Opportunity or “VOO” lawsuits against BP Oil, on behalf of citizens of Bayou La Batre and south Mobile County, who participated in the VOO program. The VOO lawsuit alleges that BP is contractually obligated to pay vessel owners, who were prohibited from using their boats for any other purpose, for their time spent on standby. To date, a total of ten complaints have been filed in the Circuit Court of Mobile County, Alabama and more are expected to follow.

“We are trying to help citizens of our community who provided work for BP in their oil clean-up operations. They were given a job, required to sign a contract, and as the suit alleges, were not paid in full for their services.” said Edward P. Rowan

The law firm of Taylor Martino, P.C. has filed the first of many Vessels of Opportunity or “VOO” lawsuits against BP Oil in relation to the oil spill that resulted from the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Explosion on April 20, 2010. The firm filed its first round of complaints on November 5, 2010, on behalf of citizens of Bayou La Batre and south Mobile County, who participated in the VOO program. To date, a total of ten complaints have been filed in the Circuit Court of Mobile County, Alabama:

CV-2010-902526 JOSEPH CAIN v. BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY, INC. ET AL
CV-2010-902527 TOMMY G. CAIN v. BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY, INC. ET AL
CV-2010-902528 SEAN JOHNSON v. BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY, INC. ET AL
CV-2010-902529 BRIDGET SPRINKLE v. BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY, INC. ET AL
CV-2010-902530 WILLIAM R. SPRINKLE v. BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY, INC. ET AL
CV-2010-902531 DAVID SECOR v. BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY, INC. ET AL
CV-2010-902585 WILLIAM CLAY MCCLAIN v. BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY, INC. ET AL
CV-2010-902586 KIMBERLY JOHNSON v. BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY, INC. ET AL
CV-2010-902587 SOMVANG PAKHAMMA v. BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY, INC. ET AL
CV-2010-902588 VANNALINH PAKHAMMA v. BP AMERICA PRODUCTION COMPANY, INC. ET AL

“We are trying to help citizens of our community who provided work for BP in their oil clean-up operations. They were given a job, required to sign a contract, and as the suit alleges, were not paid in full for their services.” said Edward P. Rowan, an attorney with Taylor Martino. “All the plaintiffs want is for BP to stand by their contract. Instead, what we see here is a recurring theme in BP’s oil spill payments – an initial payment to ‘calm the waters,’ and then a quiet withdrawal of their obligations.”

The contract in question, the “Master Vessel Charter Agreement,” stipulates that vessels be used exclusively in the VOO program, and that BP must issue a formal termination, called an “Off Hire Dispatch Notification” before vessels are released from that contract. On July 22, 2010, BP placed a large number of vessel owners on standby due to the proximity of Tropical Storm Bonnie. Many of those vessels were never reactivated, and remained on standby until BP terminated their contracts several weeks later: in most cases, on August 27, 2010. The VOO lawsuit alleges that BP is contractually obligated to pay vessel owners, who were prohibited from using their boats for any other purpose, for their time spent on standby. "At least forty vessel owners have contacted us since the beginning of November. We are preparing their complaints and plan to file en masse." said Steven A. Martino, senior partner at Taylor Martino.

The experienced litigation attorneys of Taylor Martino will continue to pursue these claims for all participants of the Vessels of Opportunity program that were not properly compensated.

Vessels of Opportunity (VOO) Lawsuit: Background Information

The VOO Program

Within 10 days of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion on April 20, BP started a program called “Vessels of Opportunity” (VOO), which was designed to put Gulf vessel owners to work helping clean up the BP Gulf oil spill. The initial staging areas of the VOO program included Venice, LA, Mobile, Biloxi, Pascagoula and Pensacola.

VOO Vessel Owner responsibilities

The VOO vessels were hired by BP to perform the following services: skimming; tending and maintaining boom; collecting sheen and light oil off the surface of the water; finding and removing tar balls; and transportation of supplies, personnel and wildlife.

Initial vessel requirements

To qualify for the Vessels of Opportunity Program, owners needed to:

  •     Have their vessel pass a U.S. Coast Guard dock side inspection.
  •     Meet crew requirements for the vessel’s size.    
  •     Take a 4-hour worker safety course approved by OSHA and BP.
  •     Pass a simple physical and drug screen.
  •     Submit information on their vessels, including: length, draft, horsepower, and questions about their crew, including whether crew members are HAZWOPER trained.
  •     Sign the BP contract called “Master Vessel Charter Agreement.”

VOO Pay Scale
Vessel fees, broken down by length of boat, were as follow:

30 feet or smaller: $1,200 a day
30-45 feet: $1,500 a day
45-65 feet: $2,000 a day
65 feet or larger: $3,000 a day

Pay rates for crew members were $200.00 a day for an 8-hour work day for all crew members. BP announced that some crews may be paid more based on their scheduling, and that crews working an assigned night shift would be paid for twelve hours.

Non-commercial boat owner and out-of-state resident hires
Despite the VOO program having been designed to support local commercial fishermen, BP initially hired boats licensed to out-of-state residents. Many of those owners rushed to register their non-commercial vessels as commercial ones so that they could take part in the program. After complaints from local commercial boat owners, at whom the program was targeted, BP agreed to stop hiring boats registered to out-of-state residents in June.

Number of “vessels of opportunity” hired

On April 30, BP started searching for local vessels for hire that were capable of deploying boom in the Gulf. By May 2, more than 1,000 people had received training from BP on clean-up procedures, and more than 500 “vessels of opportunity” were in operation for BP. By July 7, that number had grown to 3,000 vessels. On September 16, BP halted their VOO program in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi. Over 6,000 boats had been contracted to work, although only 3,500 boats were actually put to work.

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Ed Rowan

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