Friday, September 1, 2017

$4.2 million fine ordered for oil rig accident that killed Filipino workers

The Gulf of Mexico oil rig after the explosion that killed three Filipno workers.

ALMOST FIVE YEARS after an oil rig accident blew up claiming the lives of three Filipino workers, after pleading guilty to several safety violations, an oil drilling operation agreed to pay a $4.2 million penalty.

The decision is part of a series of court proceedings surrounding the 2012 the Gulf of Mexico accident, south of New Orleans. Filipino workers Avelino Tajonera, Elroy Corporal, and Jerome Malagapo died in the explosion while other workers were burned and injured.

Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC (BEE), headquartered in Houston, Texas, was sentenced today (Aug. 31) on eight felony violations of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act (OCSLA) and one misdemeanor count of violating the Clean Water Act before the Honorable U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo.

However, BEE has filed for bankruptcy since the accident, therefore the $4.2 million penalty will be a general unsecured claim against BEE’s bankruptcy estate entitled to a pro rata distribution from the trust with other allowed unsecured claims against BEE

The workers who died or were injured were employed by labor contractor Grand Isle Shipywards. 

Grand Isle Shipyards faces manslaughter charges, while co-defendants Curtis Dantin, Christopher Srubar, and Don Moss face criminal violations of the Clean Water Act in the Eastern District of Louisiana. Those cases probably won't be heard until 2018.

The OCSLA charges against Grand Isle Shipyards, Moss, Srubar, and Dantin, were dismissed by the district court and are pending in an interlocutory appeal by the government to the Fifth Circuit.

The oil accident lifted the curtains to labor exploitation in the oil industry. Among the many illegal abuses the Filipino workers suffered at the hands of GIS were being forced to work for six to seven days a week, 12 to 14 hours a day without overtime pay with thousands of dollars in overpriced, unlawful “room and board” deductions unlawfully withheld from their paychecks. 

GIS forced the Filipino employees to work for up to four months straight offshore on oil rigs, while American co-workers were allowed to leave the oil rigs after the completion of their shifts each day. 

The Filipino workers were threatened with firing or being deported if they requested a day off or complained about working conditions. 

Onshore, Filipino workers were locked in bunkhouses at night and even on their days off, held prisoner until the beginning of their next shift. Now, over 100 Filipino workers in Louisiana have filed a class action lawsuit against GIS. They are also seeking accountability from a Philippine recruitment group in Louisiana called D&R Resources as well as a crewing company in the Philippines called DNR Offshore Crewing, which works with GIS to recruit Filipino workers.

The U.S. Department of the Interior-Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-CID conducted the investigations. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Emily Greenfield and Nicholas Moses, and Senior Trial Attorney Kenneth Nelson of the Environment and Natural Resources Division prosecuted the case.

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