Understandably the public's outrage over the Gulf disaster has been focused mostly on the extremely rich BP and the almost unimaginable impact this disaster has had on at least four states already. The family struggles of the 11 workers killed in the rig explosion – nine of whom worked for rig owner Transocean - may not be receiving as much attention. But they should. (If you haven’t felt nauseous yet over what’s happening in the Gulf, please let us fix that. You can thank us later!)
In an legal maneuver the U.S. Justice Department yesterday called “simply unconscionable,” Transocean has asked a federal judge to apply a 159-year-old law to cap its liability at $27 million – essentially the costs of the sunken rig. AP reports, “If successful, Transocean Ltd. would be left with as much as $533 million in insurance money [which is] almost enough to cover the revenue the company was expecting from a three-year contract with BP PLC.”
Here are a few other sick facts about Transocean:
1. This 159-year-old-law in which it is trying to seek refuge? It’s apparently the same law that the Titanic’s owners used to justify their tiny payouts to survivors and estates of those killed, after fighting families for years. But “with an added Dickensian twist,” says the Justice Department, “within days of filing its Petition in this Court, Transocean publicly announced (from Switzerland) that it would be issuing approximately $1 billion in dividends to its shareholders." (So that's why Scrooge is in my head!)
2. Transocean's insurers are trying to pull strings behind the scenes to limit its payouts – at least according to Transocean. In written testimony to Congress, the company’s counsel says, “Our underwriters instructed us to file such an action, and failure to do so could have resulted in the loss of insurance coverage to help pay claims.” You see, with insurance companies, it’s all about the victims.
3. Unless Congress fixes things, yet another obscure law on
the books will help Transocean (and BP) largely escape responsibility to these 11
families. The Death on the High
Seas Act severely limits what it owes to surviving family members of those
killed more than three nautical miles from shore.
Meanwhile, the widow of 35-year-old Jason Anderson, a “rising star” at Transocean and the most senior person killed on the rig, was interviewed by the Today Show today. Shelly Anderson and Jason’s father both said Jason was deeply worried about safety practices on the rig, particularly the pressure from “higher ups” to “stray from procedures to finish the well faster, which Jason considered unsafe.”
Here is an excerpt from the full piece, below:
Transocean CEO sat in their kitchen to say they’d take care of her family but then even before the memorial service for the workers who died, Transocean went to court to limit it’s overall liability in the case, which is now before a judge. Shelly says the company could have waited. “They haven’t even let us say goodbye, to at least have for his memory a little bit. To have time to explain to a five-year-old that her daddy is in heaven. And they’re filing these lawsuits to limit us. They need to just slow down … back up.”