Vietnamese, Cambodian fishermen among hardest hit by BP oil spill
Many Vietnamese and Cambodia fishermen are without work now because of the BP oil spill, and some still feel the effects of Hurricane Katrina. BP is trying to help, but there's a language barrier.
While the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has idled hundreds of fishing boats in coastal Louisiana, the disaster has hit the close knit community of Vietnamese and Cambodian shrimpers in Plaquemines Parish particularly hard.Skip to next paragraph
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“I don’t know how I’m going to pay my car insurance,” Cung “Kim” Tran, a deckhand on a commercial fishing boat, declared at a community meeting Thursday at the China Sea Restaurant in the town of Buras. “I don’t know how I’m going to pay the note on my car or my house. Can you tell me what to do?”
Attended by BP representatives, parish officials, a regional United Way director, and over a hundred local fishermen, the meeting was called by Spencer Aronfeld, a personal injury and malpractice lawyer from Miami, Florida, who arrived in the parish earlier in the week.
“When I read in the news about the contracts BP asked residents to sign before they went to work, I couldn’t stand by and let that happen,” said Mr. Aronfeld. “I felt obligated to help. I contacted BP myself and brought in the United Way and said we need to have a meeting and start feeding people.”
The contract Aronfeld referred to was a liability waiver local residents were asked to sign to enroll in safety and hazardous materials handling courses, required by BP for paid jobs containing and cleaning up the oil spill. The waiver caused much distrust and confusion in Plaquemines Parish. Many thought they would be signing away their rights to file claims over the spill, and the form was soon dropped.
Communication with Vietnamese and Cambodian fishermen in the parish has been particularly difficult for the oil company. While BP has translators on hand at most meetings, an early version of the waivers were written in English only.
“I don’t see how in good conscience BP could ask immigrants who do not speak English to sign away their rights with a contract written only in English, particularly for work as dangerous as this,” said Aronfeld.
Aronfeld, who went on local radio to publicize the meeting, is among dozens of lawyers who have come to south Louisiana since the oil well disaster started.
Earlier this week, a federal judicial panel in Washington was asked to consolidate at least 65 potential class-action lawsuits that claim economic damage from the spill. Fishermen, charter boat captains, business owners, and vacationers filed suit across the Gulf coast seeking damages that could reach into the billions.