Asian-American Boat Owners Accuse BP of 'Despicable' Racism


     NEW ORLEANS (CN) - BP "specifically demanded" that the companies overseeing its Vessels of Opportunity oil spill clean-up program not hire Vietnamese- and Cambodian-Americans, a class estimated at 4,000 professional fishermen claims in Federal Court.
     The fishermen say in their complaint that BP's co-defendants "DRC Emergency Services LLC and Danos and Curole Marine Contractors LLC colluded in this despicable order by limiting the number of Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans that they hired."
     In a separate lawsuit, in Pinellas County, Fla., a retired engineer says BP needed his help to cap its broken wellhead, but never paid him the $2 million in promised.
     Forty-one named Vietnamese- and Cambodian-American plaintiffs filed the class action in New Orleans.
     They claim that before the April 20, 2010 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which killed 11 and set off the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, "the Gulf Coast seafood industry was a vibrant and lucrative business employing more than 213,000 people and producing more than $10.5 billion to the local economy. The force behind this vibrant industry was the more than 13,000 commercial fishing vessels in the Gulf."
     The class claims that "according to a study performed by Dr. David D. Burrage, Extension Professor of Marine Resources at Mississippi State University, one-third of the boats with Gulf of Mexico federal shrimp permits, and over one-half of the boats actually fishing, belonged to Vietnamese-Americans. Vietnamese-Americans operated 62 percent of all Mississippi licenses for vessels over 45 feet, 75 percent of all Louisiana licenses for vessels over 50 feet, and 65 percent of Alabama licenses for vessels over 45 feet. This number does not include a smaller, but significant percentage belonging to Cambodian-Americans."
     The class claims that "the oil spill devastated the commercial fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico, causing suffering and financial burdens to hundreds of thousands of people, especially to commercial fishermen. Over half of all active commercial fishermen affected by the BP oil spill were Asians of the Vietnamese and Cambodian origin."
     BP set up a Vessels of Opportunity (V.o.O) program, through which it hired the fishermen to use their boats in the clean-up. Boat-owners who signed up have filed numerous lawsuits against BP, claiming it did not live up to its promises, including paying them at all after putting them on call, or decontaminating their boats.
     BP hired DRC Emergency Services and Danos and Curole Marine Contractors to manage the Vessels of Opportunity program, according to the class action.
     The complaint states that "even though over half of all active commercial fishermen affected by the BP Oil Spill were Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans, less than 10 percent of all the vessels hired for the V.o.O program were owned by Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans. It is estimated that of the 5,000 marine vessels hired, only around 350 vessels belonged to Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans."
     The class claims this was directly attributable to BP's discrimination.
     "During the implementation of the V.o.O. program, BP sent out e-mail messages to DRC Emergency Services LLC and Danos and Curole Marine Contractors LLC that specifically demanded that they not hire vessels owned by Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans," the complaint states.
     "Based on information and belief, DRC Emergency Services LLC and Danos and Curole Marine Contractors colluded in this despicable order by limiting the number of Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans that they hired."
     The class claims that about 4,000 Vietnamese- and Cambodian-Americans were affected by the discrimination.
     They seek damages for civil rights violations and racial discrimination in employment. They are represented by Ryan Beasley of Harvey, La.
     In Pinellas County Court, Florida, retired engineer Joseph Kaminski claims BP needed his help to cap its broken wellhead but never paid him for it.
     Kaminski's attorney, Brian Donovan, issued a press statement announcing the lawsuit. In it, he says that Kaminski is the former technical director for the Honeywell Space Systems Division in Clearwater, Fla., where the complaint was filed.
     From 1990 to 1999, "Kaminski was responsible for the design and system integration of the Honeywell space computer into NASA's EOS (TERRA) satellite, the design of the Honeywell A2100 spacecraft computer product line, the design of the NASA Near Earth Asteroid Rendezvous ('NEAR') mission computers, and the design of the NASA FORTE mission computer. Suffice it to say, Mr. Kaminski is not 'Joe the Plumber,'" Donovan said in the statement.
     According to the complaint, Kaminski called BP 21 days into the oil spill, and "offer(ed) to assist BP to control the source of the oil spill resulting from the blowout."
     The complaint continues: "During this initial telephone conversation, plaintiff Kaminski briefly explains to BP technical support team representatives how his insertion pipe design can be used to collect the oil flowing from the well. Plaintiff Kaminski's idea is to insert a smaller pipe into the broken pipe past the break and inflate sealing rings. A technical support team representative is so impressed with the solution that he requests plaintiff Kaminski's email address in order to forward him a form to fill out and return to the Horizon Support Team ('HST')."
     The next day, May 12, 2010, Kaminski "emails the solution to HST using the insertion pipe to collect oil," as he had explained on the telephone the day before, according to the complaint.
     He sent another email on May 13: "In this email, plaintiff Kaminski tells HST that he wants at least $2 million for his assistance, ideas and/or designs if they use them. Plaintiff Kaminski also explains to HST why the BP-designed 'Top Hat' will not work," the complaint states.
     Kaminski claims that all correspondence from May 13 onward made it clear that he expected to be paid $2 million, and that BP was prepared to pay $2 million for his assistance. He says this was made clear in communications with attorney Elizabeth Hittos, legislative counsel for U.S. Congressman Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., in Washington, D.C.
     "Plaintiff Kaminski conceived, invented, and designed the novel, unique, and concrete Insertion pipe idea," the complaint states. "Defendants, both directly and indirectly via Attorney Elizabeth Hittos, requested the use of plaintiff Kaminski's insertion pipe invention, idea, and design, and the ongoing engineering services of plaintiff Kaminski, and have knowingly and voluntarily accepted their substantial benefits. The insertion pipe idea was submitted by plaintiff Kaminski to defendants with the understanding and expectation, fully and clearly understood by defendants and attorney Hittos, that plaintiff Kaminski would be reasonably compensated in the amount of 'at least two million U.S. dollars' for its use by defendants. Defendants did in fact use plaintiff Kaminski's precise insertion pipe idea and design. Defendants have failed to pay plaintiff Kaminski any part of the reasonable value of his insertion pipe invention, idea, and design, and ongoing engineering services."
     Kaminski claims he also "conceived, invented and designed the novel, unique, and concrete 'Top Hat' with thermal lifting action idea."
     Kaminski claims BP could not have capped the will without using his novel ideas.
     BP faces fines under the Clean Water Act for every barrel of oil spilled. Kaminski claims that had it not been for his help, BP would face even greater fines,.
     If BP is found guilty of gross negligence in the spill and is assessed the maximum fine per barrel spilled ($4,300 times 4.9 million barrels), it will face $21 billion in penalties.
     Kaminski seeks damages for unjust enrichment.
     He is represented by Brian Donovan of Tampa.
     The only defendants in his complaint are BP Exploration & Production and BP America Production Co.