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Judge Tells Transocean to Deliver the Info

NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Transocean must deliver documents on the safety of its drilling rigs to a government investigatory panel, a federal judge ruled during an oil spill status conference Friday. Transocean called the government's third request for records a "fishing expedition," but U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier disagreed.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier granted the U.S. attorney's subpoena for records from the owner of the Deepwater Horizon, saying the subpoena served a "proper statutory purpose, seeking documents that are relevant, and that are in no way unduly burdensome."

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sharon Smith said the documents are wanted "for the forward-looking purpose of making sure" an explosion such as April 20 disaster on the Deepwater Horizon, which killed 11 people and set off the worst oil spill in history, will not be repeated.

Smith said that some of the documents Transocean has delivered are curious. For instance, the 2010 audit of the Deepwater Horizon that was delivered to government investigators claims the audit was conducted on April 20 and 21, 2010, "just about the time the vessel was burning and sinking."

Smith said the government seeks records not just to determine what went wrong on and under the Deepwater Horizon, but whether "what went wrong is systemic."

This was the government's third request for safety inspection information from Transocean.

Calling the government's request for records a "fishing expedition," Transocean attorney Richard Hymel resisted the subpoena by saying the government doesn't know what it is looking for, only that it wants to find something.

Hymel said Transocean has turned over extensive documentation already, and suggested that the investigatory panel had just overlooked the documents it seeks.

Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Bray, a representative from the government panel, confirmed that Transocean has turned over already. But the documents in many instances were not the documents the government requested.

Bray said Transocean has turned over many internal documents. "We're looking for external audits," Bray said.

Judge Barbier gave Transocean 15 days to turn over all documents relating to the last Safety Management System (ISM) audit report for all Transocean vessels that operated in the Gulf of Mexico during the time the Deepwater Horizon exploded, including the external audits of the ISM, an internal audit from 1998, two 5-year recertification audits in 2003 and 2008, and four interim audits in 2001, 2004, 2007, and 2010.

The panel of investigators from the Coast Guard and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and Regulation and Enforcement ended a sixth round of hearings last week. At least one more round of investigations will take place before the panel issues a report on the cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion.

An attorney for BP at Friday's status hearing said 380 oil spill-related cases have been consolidated in Eastern District of Louisiana Federal Court, to be overseen by Judge Barbier, including the class action filed last week by the U.S. government seeking Clean Water Act and other violations.

The next status hearing is scheduled for Jan. 28 at 9:30 am.

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