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BP feels fishermen's fury over Gulf oil spill

by Staff Writers
London (AFP) April 14, 2011
BP faced protests from angry fishermen and disgruntled shareholders on Thursday at its first annual general meeting since the devastating oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The meeting took place almost a year since the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and caused millions of gallons of oil to gush into the sea.

Diane Wilson, a shrimp farmer from the Texas Gulf Coast smeared her face and hands with a dark syrup resembling oil as she protested outside the annual general meeting (AGM) venue in east London.

"My community is dead. We've worked five generations there and now we've got a dead community. I'm angry, I've been angry a long time."

Wilson bought BP shares to gain entry to the meeting but police and security guards ejected her from the conference hall amid chaotic scenes.

Around 100 protesters turned up to show their anger at BP's actions, ranging from Gulf fishermen to representatives of indigenous communities opposed to BP's involvement in tar sands extraction in northern Canada.

BP has tried to move on from the disaster after agreeing to share responsibility with the owners of the stricken rig and is selling $30 billion (21 billion euros) of assets to pay the clean-up bill and compensate fisherman.

But Byron Encalade, president of the Louisiana Oystermen Association, said he had crossed the Atlantic to come to London to vent his fury at delays to compensation payments.

"We were the first to feel the impact of the oil spill. I'm here because the claims process has failed the fishing communities along the coast," he said.

"We'd just like to know where all this money went. We should have got it."

He said he wanted a commitment from BP that the tens of thousands of delayed and unpaid claims would be investigated.

Keith Jones, father of one of the dead oil rig workers, issued a statement which was read out at the meeting.

"You were rolling the dice with my son's life and you lost," it read.

BP's fortunes were ravaged by the spill, widely acknowledged to be the worst environmental catastrophe in US history, and billions of dollars were knocked off the company's value.

Oil spewed for 87 days before the well was capped, contaminating hundreds of miles of coastal wetlands and beaches, and forcing a third of the Gulf's rich US waters to close to fishing.

Bob Dudley, the American who took over as chief executive from the beleaguered Tony Hayward in October, told shareholders that BP's actions were proof it had "heard" the concerns about its ability to prevent accidents.

"We are a different company from the one that held this event a year ago," he said, adding BP was now focused on "realising value through safe and sustainable operations.".

BP reported its first annual loss in almost two decades as a result of the disaster and its share price remains 30 percent below its level before the spill.

Although BP conducts the majority of its business abroad, it is crucial to the fortunes of millions of British investors because most British pension funds invest in the company.

Several key shareholders, including the US pension fund Calpers, threatened to vote against the annual report to be submitted at the AGM, partly in protest at the high levels of pay for BP executives despite the disaster.

Dudley also defended a huge planned deal to explore for oil in the Arctic in a joint venture with Russian giants Rosneft.

"Access to the Arctic is a substantial prize," he told the meeting.

The issue has been put off until May after BP and Rosneft agreed Thursday to extend a deadline to complete a $16 billion share swap that is key to the deal -- which has also sparked environmental concerns.

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