HOUSTON (Reuters) - Shrimpers in Louisiana and Alabama have filed class-action lawsuits against oil giant BP Plc and owners of the drilling platform that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, as claims for economic losses anticipated from the disaster began to mount.
Two similar lawsuits, filed late on Wednesday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans and on Thursday in the adjacent Gulf Coast state of Alabama, accuse the companies of negligence.
The huge oil slick was expected to reach a wildlife reserve at the mouth of the Mississippi River on Thursday as it menaced the environmentally sensitive coastline of four states.
The Gulf Coast region ranks as one of the most productive U.S. fisheries, especially for shrimp, accounting for more than 70 percent of a nationwide catch valued at $442 million in 2008, the last year for which federal figures were available.
The blowout comes at a particularly bad time for the shrimp industry, coinciding with the very start of the season as shrimp stocks make their way from estuaries out to sea.
“So they’re moving directly into the path of the oil spill,” said Deborah Long, spokeswoman for the Southern Shrimp Alliance trade group, which is not a party to the lawsuits.
The suits were filed on behalf of three commercial shrimp fishermen — two in Louisiana and one in Alabama — who are named in their respective complaints, and other coastal residents whose livelihoods are threatened by the spill.
The Coast Guard estimates that 5,000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of crude oil a day is gushing from the sea floor where the blowout occurred, and authorities have said it could take weeks to cap the leak as BP mounts what it calls the largest oil spill containment operation in history.
The suits name as defendants London-based BP Plc, which holds the lease to the offshore well; Swiss-based Transocean Ltd, owner of the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform that exploded in flames on April 20 and collapsed two days later; Halliburton Energy Services Inc, which was engaged in cementing operations of the well and well cap; and Cameron International Corp, which supplied the rig’s blow-out prevention equipment that failed.
There was no immediate comment about the lawsuits from any of the companies.
The semi-submersible oil drilling rig burst into flames while finishing a well for BP about 40 miles southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Each of the lawsuits seeks economic and compensatory damages of at least $5 million, the minimum sum required by the federal Class Action Fairness Act on which jurisdiction for the suits are partially based. They also seek an unspecified amount of punitive damages.
“While we’re still in the embryonic stages of quantifying the environmental impact, we’re watching in real time, and somewhat helplessly, a slow-motion disaster,” Louisiana-based lawyer Richard Arsenault, a partner in one of 10 law firms joining the Louisiana filing, said in an email.
The cases are Cooper and Anderson vs. BP, 2:10-cv-01229, and Mason vs. Transocean, 1:10-cv-00191-CG-B.
Writing by Steve Gorman; editing by Mary Milliken and Mohammad Zargham