In the wake of the BP oil disaster, the oil giant opened its Vessels of Opportunity (VOO) program, which hired boats along the Gulf Coast to participate in cleanup operations. Each vessel could earn up to $3,000 a day, and no less than $1,200. Thousands of vessels were added to BP's "pool," a rotating list of boats from the Gulf (and elsewhere).
But dozens of suits have been filed in the wake of the VOO program, claiming BP hasn't coughed up its share of the money for the work the boats performed. BP contends it fulfilled its obligations — and last month, it made clear that additional settlements to cleanup workers will impact their payments from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.
On Nov. 8, the law firm of Faegre & Benson LLP sued BP on behalf of hundreds of boat owners, claiming the company hasn't honored the terms of hundreds of contracts made with VOO participants.
"The terms of the contract are clear," said attorney Gerry Nolting. "BP contracted thousands of boats in connection with the emergency cleanup activities, and under the terms of the contract these boats would be available 24-7. ... BP doesn't want to pay for 24-7. ... The contract specifically requires the boats to be on standby until BP decontaminates the boats."
BP documents outlining the terms of the VOO program note: "There is no payment when on standby or waiting at dockside. Payments start when a vessel enters the water to commence oil recovery activities." Nolting said BP has refused to pay the plaintiffs for their standby time, which in many cases was forced — BP didn't pay for or perform decontamination, thereby preventing the boats from re-entering the water.
The 17-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in New Orleans names 495 plaintiffs, but Nolting said that figure could grow to 600. "We're simply saying a deal is a deal," he said. "My clients are in the business of fishing, not litigating." — Alex Woodward