Oil Platform Owner Sued Over Deadly Blast in Gulf

By MICHAEL KUNZELMAN | March 28, 2013

Relatives of two victims of a deadly explosion on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico last year are suing the platform’s owner and operator, accusing the Houston-based company of exposing workers to dangerous conditions.

A wrongful death lawsuit, filed Monday in federal court on behalf of Ellroy Corporal’s widow, seeks unspecified damages against Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations LLC.

The bodies of Corporal and another worker, Jerome Malagapo, were recovered from the Gulf after the Nov. 16 explosion. A third worker, Avelino Tajonera, was critically burned and died at a hospital a week after the blast.

The suit claims oil vapors ignited when workers cut into a pipe connected to tanks that should have been depressurized and purged before any construction work on the lines.

“Black Elk knew, or in the exercise of reasonable care should have known, of the defects which caused the explosion,” the suit alleges. “Black Elk failed to exercise reasonable care which would have prevented the explosion.”

The lawyers representing Corporal’s widow, Mary Jean Corporal, also sued Black Elk Energy last month on behalf of Tajonera’s widow, Edna Tajonera.

All three of the workers who died as a result of the explosion worked for Grand Isle Shipyard Inc., a contractor that isn’t named as a defendant in either suit.

Black Elk spokeswoman Leslie Hoffman declined to comment on the suits.

“Black Elk regrets the loss of these lives and Black Elk representatives have conveyed their condolences to the families of the deceased,” she said in a statement.

The fixed production platform where the explosion occurred is roughly 17 miles southeast of Grand Isle, in 52 feet of water. At the time of the explosion, the platform was shut in while a pipeline to the shore was being replaced.

Mary Jean Corporal’s lawsuit says Black Elk has a history of safety problems.

“Since 2010, Black Elk has been cited 315 times for safety violations,” the suit says. “Of these 315 violations, the (U.S.) Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement labeled 157 of them as `severe or threatening.”‘

Black Elk cut costs related to drilling wells and maintaining platforms during the third quarter of 2012, when its revenues dropped 60 percent and its operating losses exceeded $25 million, the suit also says.

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