Rescued oil workers file lawsuits

By JUAN A. LOZANO

HOUSTON (AP) — Two oil workers who survived days floating on a life raft in the Gulf of Mexico after they evacuated their disabled vessel during a tropical storm have filed lawsuits claiming the workers were abandoned by another ship that could have taken them to safety.

The family of a third worker who died during the ordeal has also sued. The three men were among 10 oil workers on a liftboat in the Bay of Campeche who had to abandon the vessel on Sept. 8 after it was crippled by Tropical Storm Nate.

The workers’ attorney, Francis Spagnoletti, said Friday that the men all suffered a harrowing ordeal that could have been prevented. Among other things, Spagnoletti said the workers had to float in shark-infested waters and drink their own urine.

The lawsuits were filed earlier this week in federal court in Galveston, southeast of Houston, by Ted Derise Jr. and Jeremy Parfait, two of the surviving workers, along with the family of Craig Myers.

The suits were filed against Geokinetics Inc., a Houston-based company that provides seismic data to the oil and gas industry; Trinity Liftboat Services, a Louisiana-based company that operated a liftboat, a type of vessel used by the workers and contracted by Geokinetics; and Mermaid Marine Australia Ltd., an Australian company that owns a standby vessel that operated near the liftboat.

Derise, Parfait and Meyers worked for Trinity and are from Louisiana.

Trinity Lifeboat Services declined to comment. Geokinetics and Mermaid Marine did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

However, during a conference call last week, Richard Miles, Geokinetics’ CEO, said “safety is paramount” at his company.

“We have been primarily focusing our extensive efforts on our employees and on our partners’ employees, which have been our first and foremost concern,” Miles said.

Spagnoletti alleges that a standby ship that was in place to take the workers away in case of trouble left without them, knowing the liftboat had been crippled by the storm and the workers had already called for help. He said the standby ship was still in the area when the workers went into the water.

“The vessel didn’t stand by. It just took off,” he said, adding the workers should have been evacuated ahead of the storm.

Spagnoletti said the standby vessel left because its crew was getting seasick and wanted to go back to shore.

The men tried to open several inflatable rafts, he said, but high winds blew them away. The workers ended up with only one raft, which the attorney described as a “big life preserver” because it had an opening in the middle covered by netting.

The workers abandoned the liftboat about eight miles off shore of the port of Frontera in the southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco.

The raft wasn’t big enough for all the workers, so some had to float in the water. Knowing they would have to be in the water, several of the workers, including Myers, put on extra clothing to protect themselves against cold temperatures, Spagnoletti said.

The men floated for three days without food or drink. One of the workers, Aaron Houweling of Australia, lost his grip on the raft within the first hours.

After being in the water for some time, Myers began developing hypothermia. The men pulled Myers into the raft, Spagnoletti said, but after three days, he died.

The men were found on Sept. 11, after floating for three days, about 50 miles off the coast of the Mexican state of Campeche. Pemex, Mexico’s state oil company, and the Mexican navy led the search. Houweling’s body was found three days later.

Along with Derise and Parfait, four Mexican oil workers and a Bangladeshi were rescued alive. Myers and another American were found dead. The Bangladeshi man later died in a hospital.

The lawsuits are asking for unspecified damages.

“This case is about making sure Craig Myers hasn’t died in vain,” Spagnoletti said. “Maybe something will be done so these guys aren’t put in this kind of position in the future.”

12 Comments

  1. mark

    That’s why they get paid the big bucks. With money comes risk. What I’d like to know is what happened to the drill ship they were on . Did it sink?
    As all ways lack of details.

    #1
  2. Roxy

    Wow, there has to be more to the story

    Why did the boat not rescue them?

    Why weren’t they evacuated earlier so that this didn’t happen in the first place?

    #2
  3. Boat goes down on Thursday…rescued on Monday..tropical storm going on (i.e., rain)…drinking own urine? I wasn’t there, but it sounds fishy (shark infested fishy).

    #3
  4. lb

    The American way, lets sue somebody, we need the moneys. Next time they might not even look for’em!

    #4
  5. yes details..more please.

    This is like a story you would find in the Houston Chronicle.

    #5
  6. JohnS

    Ambulance chasing lawyer. Note that the whole affair occurred in Mexico, but the suit filed here and not there. Pemex is not named, although they have identity within the US. Scum, all!

    #6
  7. Stretch

    This is why we have a legal system: Even if many companies are competent and honest, there are always some which are neither. And in this case, it sounds like the only activity which was carefully coordinated among the dozen shell companies involved was “passing the buck”.

    If only bucks could float.

    #7
  8. Kuningan2

    The standby vessel left men to die because their crew was sea sick. You don’t think that’s worth suing over?

    #8
  9. Tex

    The Macondo ambulance chasers must be looking for work.

    #9
  10. olddispatcher

    The case was filed in US courts because out of the three companies involved two are based in the US.

    Four of the men involved are US citizens.

    I have known of oil workers that died while overseas. The US companies they worked for were always responsible for their safety.

    #10
  11. Buckshot Magee

    So I have a question for those of you who think these people are suing to make a quick buck: What if it were your loved ones() who were killed or injured directly because of a negligent or unsafe act? I’ve worked in the oilfield my entire life, from being a roustabout to running a major service company, and I absolutely guarantee that I would be filing a lawsuit if one of my loved ones were on that vessel!

    #11
  12. This is ashamed… As an oilfield worker, you depend on your company to keep you safe. The support vessel is just as integral to the safety of the workers in the event of fire or bad weather.

    Yes, Americans as a whole are sue happy these days, but these workers are well within their right given the horrors that ensued out in the open water and the lack of safety provided by their employers.

    #12