BP rig supervisors challenge manslaughter counts

AP News
Posted: May 31, 2013 12:16 PM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Two BP rig supervisors charged in the deaths of 11 workers in the Deepwater Horizon disaster claim the manslaughter counts in their indictment must be dismissed because they don't apply to conduct on a foreign-owned vessel operating outside U.S. territory.

Court filings Thursday by Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine's attorneys also argue that 11 of the 22 manslaughter counts don't extend to their clients because they weren't responsible for marine operations, maintenance or navigation of the rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010.

U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. is tentatively scheduled to hear arguments on the motions to dismiss on Aug. 7. Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment but said prosecutors would respond in court at the appropriate time.

Kaluza and Vidrine pleaded not guilty last year to the charges in their 23-count indictment, which accuses them of botching a key safety test and disregarding abnormally high pressure readings that were glaring signs of trouble before the blowout of BP's Macondo well.

They also face one count of violating the Clean Water Act. Thursday's court filings don't seek the dismissal of that charge.

The Deepwater Horizon, a rig that BP leased from Transocean Ltd., was about 48 miles from the Louisiana coast and operating under the flag of the Marshall Islands at the time of the deadly blast.

Kaluza and Vidrine's attorneys argue that 11 counts of involuntary manslaughter should be dismissed because the charges only apply to U.S.-owned vessels, whereas their clients were on a rig owned by a Swiss-based company. The other 11 counts of "seaman's manslaughter" don't apply to a foreign-flag vessel outside U.S. territory that isn't erected on the Outer Continental Shelf, they claim.

"In 5,000 feet of water, the Horizon was not 'erected on' the seabed," the attorneys wrote. "Rather it floated on giant pontoons, kept in place by thrusters and engines, not legs or even anchors."

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The defense lawyers also argue that the seaman's manslaughter counts don't apply to Kaluza and Vidirine because, as BP's well site leaders, they supervised the drilling operations and weren't part of the marine crew.

Kaluza and Vidrine's trial is scheduled to start in January 2014.

The Justice Department secured a separate, two-count indictment last year against former BP executive David Rainey, who was charged with concealing information from Congress about the amount of oil that was spewing from BP's blown-out well.

On May 20, however, U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt dismissed the charge that was the backbone of the government's case against Rainey. Engelhardt ruled that Rainey's indictment failed to allege that he knew of the pending congressional investigation he was charged with obstructing.