NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Lawyers for two BP rig supervisors charged in the deaths of 11 workers in the Deepwater Horizon disaster asked a federal judge on Wednesday to dismiss the manslaughter charges against their clients.
U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. didn't immediately rule after hearing arguments by Justice Department prosecutors and attorneys for Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, who are charged with 11 counts of "seaman's manslaughter" and 11 counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Lawyers for Kaluza and Vidrine argue that the seaman's manslaughter charges don't apply to the case because the Deepwater Horizon — the rig that exploded in the Gulf in April 2010 — wasn't "erected" on the Outer Continental Shelf.
"The weight of this rig is not supported by the shelf," said David Gerger, one of Kaluza's attorneys. "It floats. It's in 5,000 feet of water."
Duval suggested that the debate could hinge on whether the rig's blowout preventer is an "accoutrement of the ship, thereby being part and parcel thereof."
"Because it's clearly attached to the seabed," the judge said of the blowout preventer. "Clearly, the Deepwater Horizon is attached to the blowout preventer."
In response, Gerger compared the blowout preventer to a ship's anchor.
"It doesn't support the weight of the Deepwater Horizon in any way," he said.
Justice Department prosecutor William Pericak said the language of the seaman's manslaughter statute clearly applies to the circumstances of this case. He likened the Deepwater Horizon to a "giant erector set" and said the primary dictionary definition of "erect" is "to construct by assembling."
"It sank as one integral unit," he said. "So the language of the statute comfortably fits this situation."
Kaluza and Vidrine pleaded not guilty last year to charges they botched a key safety test and disregarded abnormally high pressure readings that were glaring signs of trouble before the blowout of BP's Macondo well. Their trial is scheduled to start in June 2014.
The rig, which London-based BP PLC leased from Houston-based Transocean Ltd., was about 48 miles from the Louisiana coast and operating under the flag of the Marshall Islands at the time of the deadly blast.
The defense attorneys argue that the 11 counts of involuntary manslaughter should be dismissed because the charges only apply to U.S.-owned vessels, whereas their clients were on a rig owned by a Swiss-based company. They also claim the seaman's manslaughter counts don't extend to their clients because, as BP's well site leaders, they weren't responsible for marine operations, maintenance or navigation of the rig.
Pericak argued that anyone responsible for the safety of the vessel or its crew fits within the scope of the statute.
"They were in charge of the drilling," he said.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Duval told the attorneys they presented "some very interesting issues" but didn't indicate how soon he would issue a written ruling.
Kaluza and Vidrine also face one count of violating the Clean Water Act, but they haven't asked Duval to dismiss that charge.