Survivors floated for hours in life boats in the Gulf of Mexico following the disaster on the Deepwater Horizon, and were greeted by company officials onshore asking them to sign statements that they had no "first hand or personal knowledge" of the incident, attorneys said.
"These men are told they have to sign these statements or they can't go home," said Tony Buzbee, a Houston-based attorney for 10 Transocean workers. "I think it's pretty callous, but I'm not surprised by it."
Guy Cantwell, a spokesman for rig owner Transocean Ltd., refused to answer whether Transocean or any company attached to the firm had supplied the statement, claiming it was inappropriate to comment on litigation.
"Our focus has been on the crewmembers and their families, working with all parties in the response efforts and conducting a Transocean investigation into the incident," he said Monday.
The men were kept for at least 10 hours at sea, then taken to a hotel on shore in Louisiana to sign the forms and be debriefed, according to Buzbee and court documents filed in lawsuits already brought by some Transocean employees. While such statements have no legal force and are a common industry practice, they are often used to attack the credibility of workers who later sue or testify in a lawsuit, Buzbee said.
"When I signed that I didn't care what it was. I wanted to sign the papers to do whatever I had to do so me and my wife could leave to go home," Chris Choy, a 23-year-old surviving worker said in an interview that aired Monday night with PBS' "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer." "I'd been up for 40 hours and was just going through hell."
Choy said he tried to save Aaron Dale Burkeen of Mississippi, one of 11 workers missing and presumed dead following the explosion, before being evacuated from the burning rig to a cargo boat where he watched the rig go down in flames.
"One of my clients was trying to get counseling and they had them sign this form," said Kurt Arnold, another Houston-based attorney who filed suit on behalf of three workers and the widow of a deceased crane operator last week. "They were trying to get as many of these guys to sign these statements as possible."
Robert Wine, a BP spokesman, reviewed the statement and said it had "nothing to do with BP."
"We did not make our 6 employees sign anything, let alone a waiver," he said in a statement.
Rig workers or their families have filed at least several wrongful death or personal injury lawsuits against Transocean, rig operator BP PLC and other companies involved in the offshore drilling operation.
Aout Tuesday says about half of Americans view the oil spill as an isolated incident; 35 percent see it as part of a broader problem. Less than half now favor increased offshore drilling, compared to 64 percent in 2008.
Fishermen, property owners, restaurateurs, resort companies and others have filed nearly 50 potential class-action lawsuits claiming the spill is causing or will cause steep economic losses.
The explosion and sinking of the Deepwater Horizon has triggered a major environmental disaster because an uncapped well continues to spew at least 210,000 gallons per day into the Gulf.