Hand-built boat owners sue oil well operators after vessel sinks

The Louisiana Record May 3, 2010, 8:32am

Burlington Resources Oil & Gas Co., Conoco Phillips Co. and Safety First are being sued by the owners of a hand-built commercial fishing boat that struck an oil well structure and sank.

According to a suit filed by M/V Little Kelly, Uwell J. Derouen and Kelly Derouen on April 26 in federal court in New Orleans, the well should have had navigation warning lights.

The plaintiffs claim it was dark and the M/V Little Kelly had its rigging down fishing for shrimp. Derouen and a crew member were in the wheelhouse monitoring the vessel's surface search radar and conducting a visual scan of the horizon looking for navigation warning lights, when the vessel struck Conoco's Structure 5 D.

The incident opened a large hole in the hull of the M/V Little Kelly and within minutes it sank and settled to the bottom of the Caillou Bay in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Derouens claim they did all they could do to salvage their boat. They employed a third party environmental response team to conduct cleanup and remediation of the resulting diesel fuel spill. However, despite their best efforts, the M/V Little Kelly and most of its tackle, gear and appurtenances were lost, they claim.

Conoco was notified of the incident within 24 hours and in response, dispatched two representatives and a representative of Safety First to conduct an investigation.

The defendants are accused of negligence for failing to maintain the navigation warning light system, failing to conduct regular inspections, failing to mark and illuminate a known hazard to navigation, failure to warn area seafarers of the danger, and failure to affix radar reflectors onto the structure.

The plaintiffs are asking for more than $300,000 in damages for damages to their vessel, loss of catch and furniture, tackle and apparel on board the vessel, loss of profits, costs associated with attendance at the casualty site, including salvage expense, costs associated with lighting the wreck, and mental anguish, pain and suffering, loss of primary source of income, punitive damages, attorneys' fees, costs and additional damages.

Houma attorneys Conrad S.P. Williams, III and J. Christopher Zainey, Jr. of Williams Law Group are representing the plaintiff.

U.S. District Judge Helen G. Berrigan is assigned to the case.

Case No 2:10cv01203

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