Fri Jun 4 12:07:27 MDT 2010
Foreign flagging of offshore rigs skirts U.S. safety rules
The Marshall Islands, not the U.S., had the main responsibility for safety
inspections on the Deepwater Horizon.
By Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger, Tribune Washington Bureau
Reporting from Washington -
The Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico was built
in South Korea. It was operated by a Swiss company under contract to a
British oil firm. Primary responsibility for safety and other inspections
rested not with the U.S. government but with the Republic of the Marshall
Islands - a tiny, impoverished nation in the Pacific Ocean.
And the Marshall Islands, a maze of tiny atolls, many smaller than the
ill-fated oil rig, outsourced many of its responsibilities to private
Now, as the government tries to figure out what went wrong in the worst
environmental catastrophe in U.S. history, this international patchwork of
divided authority and sometimes conflicting priorities is emerging as a
crucial underlying factor in the explosion of the rig.
Under International law, offshore oil rigs like the Deepwater Horizon are
treated as ships, and companies are allowed to "register" them in unlikely
places such as the Marshall Islands, Panama and Liberia - reducing the U.S.
government's role in inspecting and enforcing safety and other standards.
"Today, these oil rigs can operate under different, very minimal standards
of inspection established by international maritime treaties," said Rep.
James L. Oberstar (D-Minn.), chairman of the House Transportation Committee.
Some offshore drilling experts, as well as some survivors of the explosion
that led to the massive spill, say foreign registration also permitted a
confusing command structure and understaffing - factors that may have
contributed to the disaster.
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Such is how the real world works...
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