Thirty fishermen whose livelihood from the Bohai Sea have been destroyed by the 2011 ConocoPhillips oil spill have sought legal representation by Louisiana and Texas attorneys.
The move came after the Chinese fishermen learned of the ongoing legal fight by Louisiana and Gulf Coast fishermen affected by the 2010 BP environmental disaster. The group is now headed to U.S. District Court, Southern Division of Texas to seek relief.
The legal team assisting the fishermen is headed by Stuart Smith, Smith Stag LLC, of New Orleans, and attorneys Tom and Kelly Bilek, of Houston. Proceedings to help the fishermen have been filed despite ConocoPhillips issuing reports claiming no evidence of environmental pollution in the Bohai region.
Bohai Bay is the innermost inlet of the Yellow Sea, east of Beijing. Its waters are breeding grounds for scallops, clams, crabs and other types of seafood. Recently, it has also become known for offshore oil deposits. Six rigs in the Penglai 19-3 oil patch are owned by ConocoPhillips. The Chinese government initially refused to acknowledge the series of oil leaks, which began in the Bohai Bay in June 2011.
Smith said in a press release that the Chinese court system is characterized by a lack of due process and impartiality in judicial proceedings with political control of courts and judges.
"There is one place in the world, however, where these humble fishermen still hope to have their day in court, and that is in the American legal system. It was in the U.S. where executives for ConocoPhillips made many of the decisions that led to the environmental carnage in Bohai Bay. We are bringing the case in Houston, where ConocoPhillips is headquartered," Smith said.
In November a Chinese government State Oceanic Administration report found ConocoPhillips responsible for the 6,200 square kilometers of oil-polluted waters. The SOA fined ConocoPhillips only $31,000. ConocoPhillips has publicly accepted responsibility for the spills and plans to pay $173 million to the government over the next two years as well as contribute $18 million by December 2014 toward social projects benefiting Bohai Bay.