Filipino workers cleared from liability in oil rig explosion

By Balitang America Staff, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

REDWOOD CITY, Calif. – The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), a U.S. federal agency, recently released the findings of its investigation that cleared the Filipino workers from liability in the offshore oil platform explosion and fire that left three of them dead and three other seriously injured.

U.S. officials now put the blame on Black Elk Energy and four other contractors.

Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Jose Cuisia, Jr. said Black Elk Energy President John Hoffman had wrongfully attributed the tragedy to the Filipino workers.

“We welcome the release of the BSEE report that concluded the deaths of three Filipino workers and the serious injuries sustained by three other Filipino workers were the result of a series of failures on the part of Black Elk Energy and its contractors to create a culture of safety in the work environment,” Ambassador Cuisia said in a statement.

After the tragedy, Hoffman was cited as suggesting that the Filipino workers triggered the explosion and fire because they were reportedly incompetent and lack of English language skills. The Embassy demanded an apology from Hoffman and later got it.

“The Filipino workers who were on board the ill-fated platform all had extensive experience in offshore oil platforms in the Philippines, the Middle East, Europe and other parts of the world,” Ambassador Cuisia said. “And like majority of Filipinos, they all speak and understand English.”

Currently, the victims of their oil explosion and family members filed a civil lawsuit against Black Elk Energy and its contractors before the federal court of Louisiana.

Attorney Ellaine Carr, a counsel for some of the victims’ family members, said they were heartbroken not just for their loss, but because their loved-ones were initially blamed for the blast. “But they feel relieved after the investigation results were released, which cleared their loved-ones from any liability in the incident,” she said.

Carr said the results of the investigation have a favorable impact on the civil case they filed against Black Elk Energy and its contractors. She stressed, “There is hope now that the victims of this tragedy will get the justice they deserve.”

Meantime, the Philippine Embassy has also requested BSEE to investigate the death of 38-year old Peter Voices, the fourth Filipino oil rig worker who died, after a separate platform accident last October 27.

“Although we hope that Mr. Voces’s death was not the result of platform safety issues, we expect the BSEE to thoroughly investigate the incident,” the ambassador said.

BSEE Spokeswoman Eileen Angelico said the regulatory agency has started an investigation.

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