NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Five hundred more fishermen say BP owes them money for chartering their boats for its Vessels of Opportunity oil-spill cleanup, and say BP responded to their requests for payment "with a campaign of deceit designed to manipulate the fishermen and deprive them of their rights." The complaint comes the week after 71 fishermen in Mobile claimed BP used the program as a public relations gimmick and "intended to underpay VoO participants."
In the new federal complaint, 500 fishermen say, "in many instances, defendants have made it impractical for the fishermen to use their boats for any purpose other than the VoO program by failing to decontaminate the boats. As a result, defendants have forced fishermen to keep their boats idle at the docks and available for BP's use at any time. Yet defendants refuse to pay for this exercise of control over the fishermen's boats.
"BP has responded to the fishermen's claims for compensation with a campaign of deceit designed to manipulate the fishermen and deprive them of their rights. Among other things, BP has attempted to induce the fishermen to substitute contracts long after the fact that change the fishermen's rights under the original contract. BP has also misled Vietnamese-speaking fishermen while failing to provide key legal documents in Vietnamese, including the contract itself."
The plaintiffs are all commercial fishermen whose boats are used for
shrimping, crabbing, and harvesting oysters. Many are Vietnamese immigrants with limited English who cannot read legal documents in English.
"In a purported attempt to combat the effects of the spill, BP enlisted local fishing
vessels in the VoO program to identify locations of oil slicks, skim oil from the Gulf, tend and maintain boom, collect sheen and light oil in shallow waters, find and remove tar balls from the water, and transport supplies, personnel and wildlife.
"BP began executing written contracts with fishermen just days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion. The contracts were drafted by BP, and the terms were nonnegotiable for any vessel owner seeking to participate in the VoO program. As a result, every fisherman who participated in the VoO program in 2010 was subject to the same contract and contractual language," the fishermen say.
"According to the unequivocal terms of the MVCA [Master Vessel Charter Agreement], the charter term does not terminate until two events have occurred: 1) BP has issued an 'off-hire dispatch notification' to the vessel owner; and 2) the vessel has received 'final decontamination.' ...
"This contractual term recognizes the reality that a vessel cannot practicably be used for any other purpose until decontamination, and, in so defining the charter term, BP provided a contractual assurance to the fishermen that BP would compensate vessel owners until decontamination is final.
"Additionally, BP routinely and systematically informed fishermen who signed the MVCA that their boats must remain at the docks and ready for activation or a return to active participation. BP instructed fishermen that, as a condition for participation in the program, they should not use their boats for fishing and should be available for immediate activation. Relying on this instruction, many fishermen refrained from using their boats for any other economically useful purpose."