Deepwater Horizon Owner Transocean Files Petition to Seek Limited Liability
    2010-05-14 06:05:00     Xinhua      Web Editor: Zhang Xu
 

Transocean, the owner and operator of the Deepwater Horizon rig that exploded and sank last month in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 and causing a massive oil leak, on Thursday filed a petition to limit its liability to under 27 million U.S. dollars and asked for all pending cases against the company to be suspended.

The Swiss-based Transocean filed the request in the U.S. District Court in Houston under a century-and-a-half-old law that allowed the Titanic's owners to limit their liability following the ship's sinking in 1912.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison on Thursday issued an order suspending all pending claims against Transocean, and said that any action against the company must be presented at the Houston court no later than November 15.

The consolidation of claims allows "an orderly process ... before a single, impartial federal judge," Transocean said in a prepared statement, adding that it is taking this action at the instruction of its insurers to preserve coverage.

"We believe it is necessary to protect the interest of employees, shareholders and the company," said Transocean spokesman Guy Cantwell.

Under the Limitation of Liability Act of 1851, a vessel owner is liable only for the post-accident value of the vessel and its freight, so long as the owner can show he or she had no knowledge of negligence in the accident. The law was designed to help the U. S. shipping business compete against foreign ship owners who were protected against claims.

Drilling rigs count as vessels under U.S. maritime law, and since "the remains of the ... Deepwater Horizon now lay sunken" about a mile deep in the federal waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the value of the rig and its cargo comes to no more than 26.76 million dollars, Transocean said in the filing.

Transocean's move came after British energy giant BP, which was leasing the rig, filed a motion last week in Houston seeking to have the many lawsuits against it consolidated.

Since the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig off Louisiana shore, more than 100 lawsuits have already been filed against Transocean and other involved companies.

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