Foreign Flagging of Oil Rig Tied to Blast Cause

A potential cause of the unprecedented oil spill playing out in the Gulf of Mexico can be traced all the way to the tiny Marshall Islands, an impoverished nation that was ultimately responsible for the safety of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig that exploded, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

According to the report, offshore oil rigs are treated as ships and routinely register overseas, a move that can elude safety laws and inspection standards in the United States.

In the case of Deepwater Horizon, the newspaper reports, the oil rig was built in South Korea, operated by a Swiss company contracted by BP and registered with the Marshall Islands.

Special Section: Disaster in the Gulf

The international loophole is now emerging as a central factor that led to the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Lawmakers are taking notice.

"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.

The convoluted hodgepodge of responsibility, drilling experts say, fostered a confusing chain of command on Deepwater Horizon, which may have contributed to the disaster, according to the newspaper.

According to the L.A. Times, the Marshall Islands assigned the Deepwater Horizon to a category that allowed lower staffing levels. At least one survivor of the Deepwater blast said that understaffing jeopardized the safety of the oil rig.

"Over the years, the manning dwindled down and down," said Douglas Harold Brown, who was the oil rig's chief mechanic. "I believe that safety was compromised by this."

Read the entire L.A. Times report here

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