WASHINGTON: Christopher Jones, whose brother died aboard the doomed Deepwater Horizon oil rig has something to say to BP's CEO Tony Hayward: "I want my brother's life back."
In testimony before US lawmakers Tuesday, Jones's voice broke as he talked about his brother Gordon, 28, one of 11 men killed when the BP-leased rig exploded April 20, before sinking two days later and sparking the worst oil spill in US history.
"I want to take this opportunity to address recent remarks made by Tony Hayward, CEO of BP. In particular, he publicly stated he wants his life back. Well Mr Hayward, I want my brother's life back," Jones said.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Jones showed lawmakers pictures of his brother's widow and two sons.
He urged lawmakers to ensure his brother's family, and those of the other oil workers killed in the explosion, would receive appropriate compensation.
"The overwhelming impression I have gotten from the parties responsible for Gordon's death, besides that no one wants to take responsibility for it, is that they are immunised by the current law," he said.
Maritime law, including that regulating the response to oil spills, regularly favours oil companies, according to Tom Galligan, a maritime law expert and president of Colby-Sawyer College.
"Sadly, an analysis of the relevant laws reveals a climate of limited liability, undercompensation, and the possibility of increased risk," he told lawmakers considering whether to boost the amount of compensation that the families of the deceased rig workers can obtain.
Current law, Jones said, would allow liable companies to whittle away at the amount they are required to offer his brother's widow and children.
"These companies, the parties responsible for Gordon's death, they want to go out and get an economist, calculate what his earnings would be, subtract out the income taxes he would have paid during his earning life, his work-life expectancy, subtract out what he would have consumed himself, because that's what the law allows, and they would want to write a check and walk away."
The Death on the High Seas Act limits liability "to economic damages only, which in most cases means burial costs and the loss of support that family member would have provided," added the American Association for Justice, which supports a change in the law.
Companies are "immune from entirely compensating families for the horrible way in which their loved ones died and the relationship they have now lost," the organisation added.
Several senators noted that the legislation was actually amended in 2000, to create more robust compensation obligations in instances of plane crashes over water.
But those amendments do not apply to those who die in ferry, boat or oil platform accidents at sea, creating a bizarre double standard, they said.
Galligan urged lawmakers to change the law, adding it could serve to "encourage efficient investments in safety so that society faces optimal level of risk."
Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, who favours new legislation on compensation, offered his sympathies and pledged to work to change the law.
"No one's life should become an asterisk in someone's cost-benefit analysis," he said.
Congress is considering several legislative responses to the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, deemed the worst environmental catastrophe in US history.
Among the measures under consideration is reform of the Mineral Management Service, which regulates oil drilling, and whether to raise the cap on the compensation oil companies must pay for environmental or economic damage caused by spills.
House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi has asked lawmakers to move forward their legislation before July 4, her office said Tuesday. - AFP/jy