BOAT ROTATIONJul 21st, 2010 | By Frank McCormack | Category: top story
Empire’s ‘Vessel of No Opportunity’ gets its chance to work for BP
The sign was easy to spot from Highway 23 in Empire. Painted on the side of an ice chest on the deck of an imposing 70-foot-long schooner named “Perfection,” the sign, in red and black letters, read “Vessel of No Opportunity.”
The Perfection’s captain is Huey Gauthier, a part-time commercial fisherman who also owns crew boats that service the oil industry. Needless to say, neither industry has proven too lucrative for Gauthier since the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion April 20.
Gauthier said, when Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries opened an early shrimp season just days after the rig explosion, he jumped at the chance to salvage what looked to be a difficult commercial fishing season. It was a valiant effort that offered little reward.
“I went out for the May season, and it didn’t even pay for my fuel. It wasn’t too good,” Gauthier said July 12.
It wasn’t long after that May shrimping excursion that Gauthier decided to get his boat on with BP’s highly touted Vessel of Opportunity program. Given the length, durability and sizable deck of the Perfection, Gauthier believed it would be quite useful in BP’s efforts to cleanup from the oil spill.
“To me, this boat would be better as a supply boat,” he said. “Plus, it only draws three feet.”
So in early June, Gauthier registered his boat with the Vessel of Opportunity program. He said he got an information package from a BP subcontractor a full month later. Other than that, he heard little else.
“They’ve been giving me the runaround,” a clearly frustrated Gauthier said.
One example came two weeks ago when Gauthier was told that, to get his boat hired, he would need two deckhands with HAZMAT training.
“I found two deckhands and sent them to the HASMAT school, and they told them they couldn’t get into the school until they’re actually hired on with BP,” he said.
It was after that experience that Gauthier decided to display his frustration by way of his “Vessel of No Opportunity” sign. It wasn’t long before reporters began stopping by wanting to tell his story.
“Since I put my sign out I’ve had the Associated Press, CNN and ABC News stop by,” he said.
But instead of going on television or giving an interview, Gauthier decided to again reach out to BP. He made an appointment and went to Venice for a face-to-face conversation.
“I talked to them for 30 or 45 minutes,” he said. “I said, ‘All my paper work is done. It’s a shame not to have this boat. It’s the biggest deck boat in Plaquemines Parish and it could be of good use.’”
Gauthier told them he’d take the sign down and give BP a few days to respond.
It took less than 24 hours. The next day, Gauthier’s boat was hired.
“They’re putting skimmers on the boat, and hard and soft boom. They’ve assigned me to around the Chandeleur Islands,” he said July 15.
Gauthier’s boat, like others hired on to the Vessel of Opportunity program, will be paid according to length. Smaller boats, Gauthier said, earn around $1,200 a day. His 70-foot boat will make $3,000 a day.
Gauthier said the Perfection should be dispatched to the Chandeleurs early this week.
And despite the long wait to get involved with the Vessel of Opportunity program, Gauthier said he’s thankful for the opportunity to put his boat to work. Throughout the whole experience, he said patience and persistence were crucial.
“That’s what it takes,” he said.
And now that the Perfection’s sign has been replaced with oil-blocking boom, it’s clear that Gauthier’s determination was the ultimate vessel of opportunity.
BP fine-tunes Vessel of Opportunity program
Over the past few weeks, BP has made a few changes to its Vessel of Opportunity program in hopes of leveling the playing field for local Vessel.
Judi Paul, Vessel of Opportunity liaison and coordinator, said one thing BP has been working toward is eliminating all out-of-state Vessel working for the oil cleanup program. The company is also making sure that only commercial fishing and charter Vessel are employed in the program.
“The weekend warriors, those who bought Vessel after March 31, will be rolled off,” Paul said.
BP has also recently instituted a rotation plan to ensure all registered Vessel have a chance to work.
“We expect to activate only one vessel per owner until the supply is exhausted,” Paul said.
Paul said boats that have been outfitted with specialized equipment or whose crews have undergone extensive training will work full time. Other than that, larger boats will follow a 30 day rotation, while smaller boats will receive a limited term 14 day charter.
“Our program is all about getting the right Vessel for the right tasks to attack the oil,” she said.
Paul confirmed that income earned through the Vessel of Opportunity program will count against any future claims against BP with regard to the oil spill. However, employment with the Vessel of Opportunity program does not prevent a vessel owner from filing a claim. In addition, Paul said that, if a vessel owner has an immediate family member involved in the local parish government, it does not disqualify that vessel owner from working for BP.
“We’re not going to penalize them because they’re related to someone in the parish government,” she said.
Paul said anyone who has not already registered his or her boat with the Vessel of Opportunity program can do so either at one of the parish’s outreach centers or by phone at 985.493.7840.