Cain Burdeau and Harry R. Weber / Associated Press
BP marked the first anniversary of themassive Gulf of Mexico oil spill by suing its business partners forbillions of dollars, as Gulf residents held somber vigils andrelatives flew over the waters where 11 oil rig workers died.
A year after the rig explosion that triggered the worst offshoreoil spill in American history, President Barack Obama vowed to holdBP and others accountable for 'the painful losses that they'vecaused.'
For its part, BP filed lawsuits alleging negligence by the rigowner and by the maker of the device that failed to stop the spill.
Both of those companies filed their own claims, a reminder thatlengthy court battles lie ahead.
The disaster began on the night of April 20, 2010, when theDeepwater Horizon rig burst into flames and killed the 11 men. Therest of the crew evacuated, but two days later the rig toppled intothe Gulf and sank to the sea floor. Over the next 85 days, 206million gallons of oil -- 19 times more than the Exxon Valdezspilled -- spewed from the well.
Parents, siblings and wives of the workers -- whose bodies werenever recovered -- boarded a helicopter Wednesday to see the waterswhere their loved ones perished. The helicopter took them from NewOrleans out to the well site, circled around so that people on bothsides of the aircraft could see and then returned to shore, saidArleen Weise, whose son, Adam, was killed on the rig. The onlyindication they were at the site was an announcement from thepilot, she said.
'It was just a little emotional, seeing where they were,'Weise said by phone from Houston, where rig owner Transoceanplanned an evening memorial service.
Asked what went through her mind when she saw where the rig wentdown, Weise said, 'Just rise up. I wanted them to come up, but itdidn't happen.'
In a statement, President Barack Obama paid tribute to thosekilled in the blast and said that despite significant progresstoward mitigating the spill's worst impacts, 'the job isn'tdone.'
'We continue to hold BP and other responsible parties fullyaccountable for the damage they've done and the painful losses thatthey've caused,' he said.
BP said in its lawsuit filed in federal court in New Orleansthat Cameron International provided a blowout preventer with afaulty design, alleging that negligence by the manufacturer helpedcause the disaster. The suit seeks damages to help BP pay for thetens of billions of dollars in liabilities it has incurred from thedisaster.
BP also sued rig owner Transocean for at least $40 billion indamages, accusing it of causing last year's deadly blowout. BP saysevery single safety system and device and well control procedure onthe Deepwater Horizon rig failed.
Late Wednesday, BP also sued cement contractor Halliburtonalleging fraud, negligence and concealing material facts inconnection with its work on the rig.
In a statement, Transocean called BP's lawsuit 'desperate,'`'specious,' and 'unconscionable.'
'The Deepwater Horizon was a world-class drilling rig manned bya top-flight crew that was put in jeopardy by BP, the operator ofthe Macondo well, thorough a series of cost-saving decisions thatincreased risk -- in some cases, severely,' Transocean said.
Houston-based Cameron noted in a statement emailed to AP thatWednesday was the deadline under the relevant statute for allparties to file claims against each other. It said that it hasfiled claims of its own to protect itself.
Also Wednesday, Transocean filed court papers demanding thatjudgments be made against BP, Cameron and other companies in itsfavor.
A presidential commission has concluded that a cascade oftechnical and managerial failures -- including a faulty cement job --caused the disaster. BP, the oil giant which owns the blown-outwell, has paid billions in cleanup costs and to compensate victims.
The company has estimated its total liability at $40.9 billion, butit might have to pay many billions more, especially if itsofficials were to be found criminally negligent in still pendinginvestigations and trials. For now, though, the company hasrebounded relatively well, with its stock now just 20 percent belowits pre-spill value.
At a candle-lit ceremony in New Orleans' Jackson Square shortlyafter sunrise, environmentalists and religious leaders joined toremember the perished rig workers and call on the nation to takethe steps to prevent another environmental catastrophe.
'Our souls are slumbering in moral indifference,' said RabbiEdward Cohn of the Temple Sinai in New Orleans. 'People quiterightly are asking: How and when, and by whose insistence andstubborn support, will the public's mind be refocused upon whathappened in the Gulf?'
Elsewhere around the world, BP employees were observing a minuteof silence.
'We are committed to meet our obligations to those affected bythis tragedy and we will continue our work to strengthen safety andrisk management across BP,' BP chief executive Bob Dudley said ina message on the company's website. 'But most of all today, weremember 11 fellow workers and we deeply regret the loss of theirlives.'
The solemn ceremonies underscore the delicate healing that isonly now taking shape. Oil still occasionally rolls up on beachesin the form of tar balls, and fishermen face an uncertain future.
Louis and Audrey Neal of Pass Christian, Miss., who make theirliving from crabbing, said it's gotten so bad since the spill thatthey're contemplating divorce and facing foreclosure.
'I don't see any daylight at the end of this tunnel. I don'tsee any hope at all. We thought we'd see hope after a year, butthere's nothing,' Audrey Neal said.
'We ain't making no money. There's no crabs,' said Louis Neal,a lifelong crabber.
His wife said the couple received about $53,000 from BP earlyon, but that was just enough money to cover three months of debt.They haven't received any funds from an administrator handing outcompensation from a $20 billion fund set up by BP, they said.
Still, there are some signs that normalcy is returning. Trafficjams on the narrow coastal roads of Alabama, crowded seafoodrestaurants in Florida and families vacationing along the Louisianacoast attest to the fact that familiar routines are returning,albeit slowly.
John Williams spent the oil spill anniversary trying to catchmackerel on the fishing pier at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores,Ala. Hundreds lined the pier.
The state banned anglers from keeping their catch off the pierlast year because of the oil, but coolers were full of big redfishand king mackerel on Wednesday.
'People will be back. It's pretty down here, and it's good tobe out here,' said Williams, of Daphne.
Members of 10 Alabama churches gathered on a public beach inOrange Beach, Ala., during a daylong prayer vigil. As familiesplayed in the surf and BP cleanup workers scoured the beach a fewmiles west for tarballs, Abe Feingold sat under an awning withfriends and said a prayer.
'It's for BP not to forget us,' said Feingold, of OrangeBeach. 'If they keep reimbursing people, we'll recover.'Most scientists agree that environmental damage wasn't as bad assome predicted, said Christopher D'Elia, dean at the School of theCoast and Environment at Louisiana State University. But biologistsare still concerned about the spill's long-term effect on marinelife.
Accumulated oil is believed to lie on the bottom of the Gulf,and it still shows up as a thick, gooey black crust along miles ofLouisiana's marshy shoreline. Scientists have begun to notice thatthe land in many places is eroding, and plants have been damaged.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said more than 300 miles ofLouisiana coastline continues to see some BP oil. He was joined bythe presidents of six coastal parishes for a commemoration on GrandIsle, a coastal barrier island that took major impact from the oilPlaying on a theme in BP's advertising during the spill, Jindalurged the company to continue to fund coastal restoration and tospeed up claims payments to those affected by the oil. 'Wecontinue to call on BP to fulfill the promises of their ads. Wecontinue to call on BP to truly make it right.'
Earlier Wednesday, Ted Petrie, back from his first shrimping runsince the spill, docked his boat at the Grand Isle marina.
He said he worries about the Gulf fishing industry's long-termprospects. That's why he is opting to pursue his claim against BPin court rather than settle for a quick payout from the company'sfund, as many of his fellow fishermen have done.
Still, he said he's grateful to be back on the water doing thejob he has done for 40 years. He hauled in about 2,000 pounds ofshrimp in three days, enough for a modest profit.
'It feels good,' said Petrie, 50. 'A fisherman has it intheir blood. They just like to do it.'
Seventeen family members, one Transocean official and two pilotswere aboard the chopper that flew the families to the site for thethree-hour round-trip. Transocean had invited up to three membersof each family to attend the flyover, but some families declined.
Janet Woodson, whose brother Aaron Burkeen was killed on therig, also was on the helicopter ride.
'It was OK, but sad even though there was nothing there,' shetold the AP.