Admiral Papp Praises Deepwater Horizon Crew, Captain Kutcha Cleared

John Konrad
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September 14, 2011

adm-robert-papp-deepwater-horizonThe Commandant of the US Coast Guard, Admiral Robert Papp, released his final report on the Deepwater Horizon Investigation today. The contents of the report are in stark contrast to the initial USCG Investigation report released in April. This time, instead of publicly raking Transocean over the coals, the Coast Guard drew up new conclusions that for the most part, seemed to remove much of Transocean’s liability for this disaster. In fact, numerous Transocean workers were recommended for official recognition for the heroism they displayed on that fateful night almost a year and a half ago.

Of interest to US mariners is Papp’s statement “...Captain Kutcha was acting under the authority of his RMI-issued credential and not his U.S merchant mariner’s license, I will forward this recommendation to the Republic Of Marshall Islands for their consideration“. With the Marshal Islands’ investigation report already stating that no action will be taken against Captain Kutcha’s license, a lawyer close to the case told gCaptain this clears Captain Kutcha of legal penalties from USCG investigators and it’s likely he will keep both his US and Marshall Islands license. Will Watson, spokesman for the Maritime Administrator of the Republic of the Marshall Islands confirms this stating; “The Maritime Administrator has received no new information that would alter the position regarding Captain Kuchta, as articulated in the Deepwater Horizon Marine Casualty Investigation Report, that no administrative action is being taken against his license.”.

Papp, deferring to the Marshall Islands in a number of key issues, continues with a clear statement that the US Coast Guard will, when possible, facilitate change via cooperation with the IMO and other international bodies. He states “I very much appreciate the importance of working with our international partners to advance maritime safety, especially at the International Maritime Organization (IMO)”. This statement will likely frustrate environmental groups looking for immediate change by means of the Coast Guard’s wide authority to enact laws via the CFR’s but will likely be defended by industry analysts who realize that cooperation with international bodies is the best possible means for protection of life and environment on a global scale.

The first half of the report is a direct response to the findings published in April of which gCaptain was surprised to find the Admiral disagreed with a number of key recommendations made by Capt. Hung Nguyen USCG, co-chair of the joint investigation. Included in the list of disagreements were the recommendations to evaluate the adequacy of inflatable liferafts aboard MODU’s, develop standards and competencies for the operation of lifesaving appliances, and to work with the IMO to amend the IMO MODU Code to address the need for a fast rescue boat/craft on board MODUs – among others. The Commandant did, however, address the need for more specific changes including the requirement that all MODU’s carry at least one dedicated Fast Rescue Boat.

While it’s certainly unusual for the Coast Guard to be internally discongruent in its recommendations, it is more surprising that Capt. Hung Nguyen, and his investigation team, is not mentioned by Papp. gCaptain has learned from outside sources that Nguyen’s co-chair on the investigation team, David Dykes, left BOEM last week for other employment. Further, the USCG’s head of Policy And Prevention, Admiral Kevin Cooke, was replaced in April with the previous holder of that post Admiral Jim Watson. We found no official statement confirming the reasons for the personnel changes but a source in the Coast Guard told gCaptain that the change of Admirals was for routine personal reasons unrelated to the investigation and Captain Nguyen remains at his post.

The second half of the report contained responses to comments put forward by “parties of interest”, entities like Transocean, BP and some of the survivors. The comments fell into two distinct groups, those who felt the Coast Guard’s April findings were two harsh – likely Transocean and it’s employees – and those which looked to expose additional blame towards Transocean. Papp disagreed with most of the comments but promised to take additional action on a select few. Most notably Papp directed the USCG to reassess license and training requirements for all personnel working aboard MODU’s. He also recommended the assessment of classes like crowd control and crisis management training as well as new assessment of USCG regulations pertaining to Dynamically Positioned vessels like the Horizon.

Is this the last we will hear from the investigation team and it’s nearly 17 month work to uncover the truth behind the events of April, 20 2010? gCaptain certainly hopes the industry will end the investigations and move forward on these recommendations but final closure is unlikely to happen. Numerous corporate lawsuits remain pending and many Deepwater Horizon survivors continue to battle Transocean and BP in court. And one question remains…. where is the forensic evidence? In a day when every aviation incident is followed by tireless recovery of the remains and an exhaustive subsea search for the “black box”, the survival of the Deepwater Horizon’s Voyage Data Recorder did not get mentioned by either Papp nor Nguyen. And while most would agree the remains of the Deepwater Horizon are, like the Titanic, sacred… time will bring video and photographic evidence which the US Coast Guard has failed to release.

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