Lawsuits Filed by Workers Who Floated Days in Gulf

By JUAN A. LOZANO | September 26, 2011

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 ship 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 the ship 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 ship.

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 their boat 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 their ship about eight miles (13 kilometers) 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 (80 kilometers) 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.”

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.