NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Half of the commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico are Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans, but BP discriminated against them during the oil spill cleanup by hiring only 7 percent of boats in its Vessels of Opportunity program from them, 55 fishermen claim in court.
Before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, "the Gulf Coast seafood industry was a vibrant and lucrative business employing more than 213,000 people and producing more than $10.5 to the local economy," according to the federal complaint. "The force behind such success was the more than 13,000 commercial fishing vessels in the Gulf, over one-half of which were owned by Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans."
The disaster that began on April 20, 2010 closed nearly one-third of Gulf waters to fishing. BP hired fishermen the spill threw out of work for its Vessels of Opportunity program cleaning up the oil.
"Even though half of all active commercial fishermen were Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans, less than 10 percent of all vessels hired for the VoO program were those of Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans," the complaint states.
"It is estimated that of the 5,000 VoO vessels hired, only around 350 vessels belong to Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans.
"To worsen the situation, for some of VoO contractors hired, BP ... breached their contractual obligations to pay these individuals their respective daily fixed rate for charter hire and crew services during the entire charter term.
"In addition, BP sprayed more than 1.8 million gallons of hazardous chemical dispersants onto the ocean surface and also injected these same chemicals below the surface of the water. Many vessel operators and crewmen were directly within the spray zone of the chemical dispersants without prior warning.
"Although the leaking well is now capped, the disastrous effects of the spill and its post-spill cleanup on the public health, the environment and the loss of income, businesses and property of the Gulf Coast residents are widespread and will likely remain so for decades."
Those who did work in the cleanup were told that when they "spot oil slicks, they are instructed to contact BP directly and provide coordinates of the slick. Upon receiving this information, spray planes were dispatched to release chemical dispersants (Corexit 9500), manufactured by defendant Nalco Company," the complaint states. (Parentheses in complaint.)
This exposed them to poison, the plaintiffs say: "Plaintiffs have been exposed to greater than normal background levels of oil, dispersants, and/or other hazardous chemicals used for combating the oil spill , which were later scientifically proven as dangerous and toxic. The material data sheet ... for Corexit 9500 indicates it contains hazardous substances: petroleum distillates, propylene glycol and organic sulfonic acid salt. The data sheet explicitly states that Corexit 9500 is harmful to human health and that dermal exposure, inhalation, and ingestion should be avoided."
The fishermen claim that co-defendant Nalco, "as manufacturer of Corexit 9500, is liable for injuries caused by its supplying of a defective, hazardous product and the product was sold with false, erroneous and misleading information as to its usage."
"Based on information and belief, during the implementation of the VoO program, BP sent out email messages to [defendants] DRC and D&C, specifically demanding that they not hire vessels owned by Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans."
Danos and Curloe Marine Contractors and DRC Emergency Services also are named as defendants.
"DRC and D&C colluded in this despicable ploy by limiting the number of Vietnamese and Cambodian Americans they had hired," the complaint states.
Also sued Halliburton and the owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, Transocean Ltd.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who is overseeing the consolidated oil spill litigation, dismissed Nalco as a defendant in December.
Barbier wrote: "Nalco did not decide whether, when, where, how or in what quantities Corexit was applied in response to the Deepwater Horizon/ Macondo Well oil spill."
Nalco attorneys had argued that the manufacturer of Corexit could not be held liable for damages from its use since the federal government is in charge of which dispersants are approved for oil spills.
Lead plaintiff Kong Duong et al. seek damages for breach of contract, exposure to toxic chemicals, economic loss and racial discrimination.
They are represented by Anh "Joseph" Cao of Harvey, La.
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