US oil spill investigation opens amidst protest (1st Lead)
May 11, 2010, 15:54 GMT
New Orleans, Louisiana - Protesters marred the opening of an investigation Tuesday into the deadly April 20 explosion at an oil rig off Louisiana's coastline, shouting their demands for an end to offshore drilling.
The two protestors, who called the US Coast Guard hearings 'illegitimate,' were removed from the hearing room in Kenner, Louisiana, outside New Orleans.
Families of some of the 11 workers killed in the blow-up, members of the local community and a number of lawyers were on hand at the hearing hoping to find out who was responsible for the disaster.
'Everyone is here to try to find out what happened,' said Walter Leger, an attorney for business in St Bernard parish on the Louisiana coast. 'I think we will get some way along. I've been to a number of Coast Guard hearings, sometimes it's quite surprising what you hear.'
Captain Hung Nguyen of the US Coast Guard, co-chair of the inquiry, promised to 'locate every available piece of evidence' as he opened the hearing in Kenner, Louisiana, outside New Orleans.
The joint probe by the Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service aims to identify what led to the explosion, the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig two days later and the massive oil well leak that is threatening the livelihood and fragile ecology of the Gulf Coast.
The hearing's first witness, Kevin Michael Robb of the Coast Guard Eighth District that responded to the incident, said it quickly became clear on the evening of the accident that the agency was dealing with a 'mass rescue operation.'
Robb recounted his steps on the evening, after the Coast Guard received a distress call from the rig and a nearby oil rig reported seeing a fire.
The Coast Guard rushed ships and helicopters to the scene and put out a call to any nearby public vessels that could help with the rescue efforts. Ten to 15 'good Samaritans' responded immediately, Robb said.
Nguyen praised the 'heroic actions' of the rig's workers and nearby ships that helped save the lives of the remaining 115 crew members and visiting BP executives.
After 80 hours of frantic day-and-night operations, Robb said it was a difficult decision to suspend the search for the remaining 11 workers, who are presumed dead.
'This is a very serious decision for obvious reasons. We're trying to find these folks. Sometimes it doesn't work out,' Robb said.
The well rupture, now sending 5,000 barrels of oil a day into the Gulf of Mexico, could have severe consequences for new offshore drilling efforts in the US, which President Barack Obama backed just months ago.
In Washington on Tuesday, the dispute over who was responsible for the oil catastrophe heated up in earnest as energy company BP and its contractors pointed fingers at each other before US Congress.
The US government is gearing up for a full-fledged investigation of the disaster even as BP tries in vain to contain and stop 5,000 barrels of crude oil a day from leaking from a 6-kilometre-deep well.