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Nearly 500 fishermen who leased their boats to assist in cleaning up last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill have sued subsidiaries of BP PLC to recover more than $150 million in payments allegedly owed them. The plaintiffs — 495 shrimpers, crabbers and oyster harvesters — participated in the Vessels of Opportunity Program, under which BP agreed to pay a daily rate of $1,200 to $3,000 for the use of their boats. In the suit, filed on Nov. 8 in federal court in New Orleans, the fishermen claimed that BP breached its contracts by not paying them the full amount. The contracts, drafted by BP, were non-negotiable and gave BP exclusive use of the boats. The complaint also alleged that BP failed to decontaminate the boats on time, if at all, preventing their use for other purposes. “A deal is a deal,” said Gerry Nolting, a partner at Faegre & Benson, one of three firms representing the fishermen, in a prepared statement. “BP contracted with these people to be available 24/7 for clean-up operations. BP agreed to pay them for their active participation in clean up, for ‘stand-by time’ and for decontaminating their boats after the clean-up work is done. Now they are reneging on that agreement.” BP spokeswoman Ellen Moskowitz declined to comment. The complaint alleged that BP, in order to lower its payments, has tried to substitute contracts, denied claims and reduced the number of vessels in the program. BP has failed to provide key documents, including the contracts themselves, in Vietnamese to fishermen who are Vietnamese immigrants who speak limited English, it continued. “Knowing that it has assumed control over the fishermen’s vessels and that it owes the fishermen money, BP has stalled, made false promises, and resorted to deception to avoid paying the fishermen what it owes them,” the complaint said. Nolting estimated that damages, which including punitive damages, could exceed $150 million. The suit names BP America Production Co. and BP Exploration and Production Co. Inc. as well as three local contractors. Nolting filed the case along with Stephen Kreller of The Kreller Law Firm in New Orleans, and Duncan Lott of Langston & Lott in Booneville, Miss. Nolting was a lead member of the plaintiffs’ trial team that obtained a record $5 billion punitive damages award in the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill case. The U.S. Supreme Court later reduced the award to $500 million. Contact Amanda Bronstad at [email protected].

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