Friday, March 02, 2012 6:34 AM PT
Hits Against BP Just Keep on Coming

     NEW ORLEANS (CN) - Nineteen more boat owners have joined the thousands of Gulf Coast residents who've sued BP, claiming it owes them money for chartering their boats in its Vessels of Opportunity oil-spill cleanup.
     Fifteen new plaintiffs sued BP this week Mobile County Court, Ala., and four others filed complaints in New Orleans Federal Court.
     The boat owners who let BP hire their ships for its Vessels of Opportunity program call the program a corrupt conspiracy that left "thousands of participants ... holding the bag for millions of dollars of unpaid services, equipment, materials, repairs and decontaminations." And they say BP intended it that way.
     In a November 2011 complaint, 71 boat owners claimed BP touted its Vessels of Opportunity (VoO) program as a public relations gimmick, but it "was marred by mismanagement, corruption and broken promises," and that BP and its co-conspirators "intended to underpay VoO participants."
     Steve Olen, a partner with the Mobile firm Cunningham Bounds, which represents the 15 new plaintiffs in Mobile County Court, told Courthouse News in a previous interview that the law firm has filed at least four previous lawsuits, each with nearly 100 plaintiffs. Altogether, the firm represents about 375 Vessels of Opportunity plaintiffs.
     Olen said all the complaints allege breach of contract and misrepresentation.
     "BP told thousands of people: 'You're on standby. Wait for our call,'" Olen said - but BP never called.
     Most plaintiffs were put on standby in early to mid July 2010, before the well was even capped, Olen said.
     In addition to failing to pay wages, BP reneged on promises to repair damage to the plaintiffs' boats and failed to pay for decontamination after the boats were used for cleanup, Olen said.
     "We've seen an awful lot of folks whose boats were damaged by the VoO program, and BP hasn't paid," Olen said.
     The new complaint in Mobile states: "BP, Parsons Corporation, Danos & Curole [Staffing] and the individual defendants have engaged in an illegal and unlawful conspiracy to defraud plaintiffs and to underpay plaintiffs for services, equipment, materials, repairs and decontaminations related to the VoO program and the oil spill response. ...
     "Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP established the VoO program as part of BP's response to the oil spill. Publicly, BP claimed that the VoO program would help clean up the Gulf Coast and would provide money to people affected by the oil spill. Once implemented, the VoO program was marred by mismanagement, corruption and broken promises. As a result, when the VoO program was concluded, thousands of participants, including plaintiffs, were left holding the bag for millions of dollars for unpaid services, equipment, materials, repairs and decontaminations."
     It adds: "In order to effectively implement the VoO program, BP and the other defendants had to convince vessel owners, captains and crew members that they would receive more money through the VoO program than if they sat idle at the dock or pursued other employment or income opportunities."
     But that didn't happen, the boat owners say.
     Their lead counsel is George Finkbohner III with Cunningham Bounds.
     The four boat owners who sued this week in New Orleans Federal Court are represented by Jerri Smitko, of Houma.