Sunday, May 2, 2010

Gulf Fishermen Win First Legal Battle Against BP

This E-alert just in from our Lower Mississippi Riverkeeper crew:
Gulf Fishermen Win First Legal Battle Against BP

As BP began accepting volunteer help from Louisiana fishermen to aid in the cleanup of oil that continues to leak from the Deepwater Horizon disaster BP was also making those fishermen sign agreements which "seriously compromised the existing and future rights and potential legal claims of these volunteers," said Stuart Smith, an attorney for the fishermen.

Some fisheries were closed on Friday April 30, 2010 and more extensive fisheries closures were implemented today. NOAA is restricting fishing for a minimum of ten days in federal waters most affected by the BP oil spill, largely between Louisiana state waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River to waters off Florida's Pensacola Bay (click here for map). The closure is effective immediately. Details can be found here:

Many Louisiana fisherman feel a deep vested interest in protecting the marine resources that provide them their livelihood and the heart of their culture. They are also desperate to make a living in the face of the fisheries closures and the likelihood
that shrimp and oyster harvests in the affected areas will be shut down for at least this upcoming season.

The offer of paid volunteer work helping to clean up the spill was welcomed but the restrictive agreements that BP was asking them to sign was making the fishermen feel that they were being taken advantage of.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana was opened this afternoon by Judge Ginger Berrigan to receive petition of Louisiana commercial fisherman to nullify and strike the offensive language in the British Petroleum volunteer fisherman charter contract.

Download a copy of the Master Charter Agreements which British Petroleum was asking fisherman to sign at

District Judge Berrigan, after hearing from counsel for the fisherman and BP, indicated the language in question in the MCA was overbroad. Legal counsel for BP agreed to enter into a stipulated judgment holding that the offensive provisions are without effect.

"This is an amazing example of how well our civil justice system works for the hard-working people of America, such as Louisiana fisherman who most need it right now," said Attorney Smith.

Commercial fisherman George Barasich stepped forward asking for emergency relief from the federal court to stop British Petroleum from forcing the volunteer corps of oil-spill responders to enter into agreements which seriously compromised the existing and future rights and potential legal claims of these volunteers.

Attorney Smith said especially egregious provisions within the Agreement were:

* BP, which is mandated to take 100 percent responsibility for the oil clean-up, is demanding that the volunteers IMDEMNIFY IT for any accidents that might occur from the volunteers' efforts (Art. 13(F));

* BP demands that the volunteers WAIVE their First Amendment constitutional free speech rights about the volunteer's participation in the clean-up efforts of the disaster; for example, if a commercial fisherman signed this agreement he or she could not then speak to anyone about the disaster or clean-up efforts until BP first "approves" of what the volunteer wants to say (Art. 22);

* BP demands a FREE-RIDE on the volunteers' insurance policies so that if there is damage to a volunteer's vessel or other injuries, such as to a crew member, BP will be an "additional insured" and the financial responsibility for the damage will rest on the volunteer's insurance carrier, NOT BP; quite obviously, the volunteers paid good money for this insurance and BP should not be allowed after-the-fact to worm their way into that contract so that it can attempt to avoid further legal responsibility for the very volunteers it is asking for aid and assistance; (Art. 13(A)); and

* BP demands 30 days of notice before any volunteer is allowed to pursue legal claims against BP, and there are no exceptions made for emergencies (Art. 13(I) [sic (G]).

We are happy to see the swift action of the civil justice system to protect citizens rights.

If you see anything fishy happening on your waterways don't hesitate to call the Lower Mississippi Riverkeerp hotline at 1-866-MSRIVER

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