Louisiana fishermen who saw their fishing grounds slowly being covered over with crude oil this week had at least one consolation: they might find work cleaning the mess up.
But when BP, who must pay for the clean up under federal law, did offer them work, it came with a number of stipulations, including indemnification of the oil giant from any accidental damages incurred by the fishermen in their work for the company, and banning them from talking publicly about their work without BP’s permission.
The fishermen sued, and on Sunday a federal judge agreed that parts of the contract, known as a Master Charter Agreement, were over-broad. BP’s attorneys 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 fishermen who most need it right now,” said Stuart Smith, the attorney for George Barasich, president of the Commercial Fisherman’s Association, Inc.
Louisiana authorities closed all fishing east of the Mississippi Friday, leaving fishermen little choice but to sign up with BP if they want to make a living. And in fact BP has launched an entire program, known as Vessel of Opportunity, to bring the boatmen into the fight against the oil spill, primarily by helping skimming the stuff off the surface of the water.
As the Christian Science Monitor has reported, many fishermen feared signing the MCA meant signing away their rights to any future compensation from BP for damages to their fishing business. The company insists this is not the case.
Health concerns added to list of demands
Smith said Monday that class action lawsuits against BP by fishermen will be amended to seek requisite protective equipment, training and air monitoring for response workers. From a press release:
It is absolutely essential that appropriate personal protective equipment, including VOC respirators, and training be provided to those volunteers responding to the spill. We have been informed that this was not necessarily a step taken in the Exxon Valdez incident and many of the fisherman and volunteer responders became ill. As a result, the Gulf Oil Disaster Recovery Group will be amending our injunctive relief claims to require the provisioning of personal protective equipment and training to all those responding to the spill, and requiring immediate monitoring of the air discharges.
BP already requires fishermen who participate in the Vessel of Opportunity program to undergo a 5-hour safety and training program.
“These chemicals are toxic, and we’re not thrilled to go out there with it, but we may not have a choice,” Kip Marquize, a Delta fisherman told Greenwire, in the New York Times. According to Greenwire, BP has signed up about 500 people from the Gulf Coast in the program.