Transocean's Legal Troubles Go beyond Safety

Soon after the discovery of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the focus shifted from Transocean, which was the owner of the Deepwater-semisubmersible rig, to BP, the operator of the rig. As a maritime lawyer I'm very familiar with Transocean, having represented clients against the company several times in the past. The New York Times recently published a report on Transocean's legal troubles elsewhere in the world. The company is not well known in the US except to those in the energy business and to maritime lawyers, but outside the country, it has a reputation for testing local rules and regulations. The company is currently the subject of a criminal investigation into charges of possible tax fraud in Norway. Transocean in fact, believes that Norwegian officials are likely to assess taxes and penalties amounting to approximately $840 million. Transocean also expects that any final ruling on the matter will have a considerable impact on its stock prices, which have already declined by 40% since the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Meanwhile, human rights groups are calling for an investigation of Transocean activities in Myanmar. According to these groups, Transocean is involved in a drilling project that also includes the participation of a company, which is suspected of having ties to money-laundering activities in the Myanmar regime. The Myanmar regime is under trade sanctions by the United States. Other legal troubles have also been brewing at home, and not all of them are related to the company's drilling safety record. A federal bankruptcy judge recently held that one of Transocean's partners had engaged in illegal activity to reduce its potential liability in the pollution issue in Louisiana. Transocean is also the subject of tax inquiries. However, the company's biggest overseas safety disaster continues to be one that occurred in 2007 and killed eight oil workers in Norway. That accident occurred when a support vessel that was towing a chain to position an oil-rig, capsized. An inquiry in that country found that missteps by Transocean and other companies had contributed to the accident.

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