In this week's Gambit, I met charter fishermen in Port Sulphur who were working under BP's Vessels of Opportunity (VOO) program. It was their last day on the job, however, as they had been laid off. According to a representative from a BP call center, BP could "deactivate" a vessel at any time, giving other vessels an opportunity to work. There is no contract. "You have to give everybody else the opportunity to get in. A lot of them arent seeing it that way, but its just the fair thing to do," she explained. (There are currently about 920 vessels operating in the Gulf.)
Today, Judith Paul, Louisiana VOO program director, announced new deployment plans and rotation system "This is about making the best use of thousands of vessels available locally," and to minimize the oil's economic impact with quicker payment and contract processing, she says. Rotation schedules with the new plan are determined by the activities the vessels perform extended-term charter vessels will perform wildlife transportation; a long-term charter will do skimming; and a 14-day limited charter (most vessels will be this) will perform oil cleanup and waste removal, boom maintenance, and supplies and personnel transport. Recreational vessels will only be brought in for emergency operations, and those that are now in the fleet are being rotated out.
"Someone that comes in next week on a 14-day rotation after 14 days may go back into the fold. ... We'll look at the total number of days that vessel has worked, and until it looks a lot more equitable than it does today, those vessels that have worked 45 to 60 days will not be getting the call back to go into the fold for additional activity," Paul explains. Those vessels will be rotated out.
Vessel branches will make available what activities VOO perform, as well as the number of vessels and their rotation schedules.
Day rates remain the same. Vessel payment is $1,200 to $3,000 a day, with additional pay to compensate crew.
The crew I met in Port Sulphur was concerned out-of-town vessels were taking their place. The BP representative told me BP is hiring on the local level. "If youre in Louisiana, thats where youd be at. If youre in Mississippi, thats where youd be at," she said. But, "as far as that going on, Im not sure about that."
Paul explains there are four Mississippi vessels in Louisiana they joined when the program opened in May, and have been working in the Rigolets. Otherwise, she says, VOO stay on their turf.
With the new cap in place to slow down the gusher in the Gulf, Paul says she doesn't foresee VOO disbanding or slowing down.
"I don't know how long we anticipate being there. We're still hiring people in our office," she says. "We have no expectation of leaving any time soon."