‘Murder at sea’ allegation over Aussie oil death

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A family lawsuit is alleging Fremantle-based Mermaid Marine’s actions were “tantamount to murder at sea” following the death of an Australian oil worker in the Gulf of Mexico.

Two of the six men who survived the accident have also filed US lawsuits against the ASX-listed Mermaid Marine and US-based Geokinetics and Trinity Liftboat Services.

The cases allege all companies were grossly negligent.

Aaron Houweling, a 33-year-old from Narangba in southeast Queensland died last month during a violent storm on the Trinity II mobile platform.

The catastrophe’s surviving workers claim the crew of Vigilance, one of Mermaid’s boats contracted to provide services to the platform, turned for shore during the storm instead of helping the oil workers.

They said Vigilance’s actions were both cowardly and intentional.

After the storm wrecked the oil rig, workers clung helpless to the sides of a tiny cork life raft for three days in torrential rains and pounding waves as it whipped into ocean seas.

Houweling drowned in the huge seas after shedding his life vest and pushing himself away from the life raft.

Three more of the workers also drowned or died of hypothermia at sea without food, water, or emergency beacons or communications devices.

The remaining survivors said they had to drink their own urine, feared sharks, and became delusional.

They said they had to urge each other to hang on and survive.

The craft was finally spotted on September 11 after drifting more than 200 kilometres.

Aboard was the body of Craig Myers, and Nick Reed, son of Tinity Liftboat Services president Randy Reed.

Kham Nadimuzzaman of Bangladesh died soon after he was rescued.

Mermaid Marine is involved in some of the biggest oil and gas operations in Australia, including Chevron’s Gorgon project.

It confirmed in an ASX statement on Wednesday charges had been made against it and other parties in the US District Court for Southern Texas.

It said it denied the claims of the survivors and would defend itself against them.

It said none of the four workers that lost their lives were employed by Mermaid or on one of its ships.

Mermaid Marine managing director Jeff Weber said in the statement the company was upset by the accident.

“We are deeply saddened by the tragic loss of the four personnel and our thoughts and sympathies are with their families, friends, and colleagues,” he said.

At the time of the storm the Vigilance ship was nearby and had been in contact with the rig over several hours.

Survivors claim the rig’s captain urged the vessel to come closer and pick up the workers, but for reasons that are not clear, the Vigilance turned for shore.

But Mermaid Marine said the Vigilance turned away to protect its crew.

“The master of the vessel was forced to take evasive action to protect the personnel on board,” it said.

Image: The Trinity II liftboat, courtesy AP

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