BP pledges to improve Vessels of Opportunity program

By GEOFF PENDER – glpender@sunherald.com

BILOXI

BP says it has listened to local input and is revamping its Vessels of Opportunity program, but the head of a local charter boat association said there are still improvements to be made.

BP has contracted with about 800 boats in Mississippi and 5,000 across the Gulf to help with the oil disaster cleanup and beach protection, and to provide work and income to commercial and charter fishermen whose businesses have been shut down because of the oil.

After recent complaints that too many recreational fishing boats were getting work, BP officials in a press conference on Wednesday said that they are giving top priority to local boats whose owners made a living from the sea before the disaster.

They said that while some recreational boats still will be used for specialized tasks, at least 90 percent of the work is now going to working boats. And, they said, boats are being organized into “strike teams” and “task forces” of boaters from particular areas, who know each other and the waters near their homes.

The teams will have a lead boat to handle communication with the oil command center, the BP officials said, hopefully solving another complaint that U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor and others have had, that there appeared to be poor communication between boats on the water and those in charge of the oil disaster operations.

Tom Becker, president of the Mississippi Charter Captains Association, said he has noticed some improvements already in the VOO program. But, he said, he’s still having problems with getting about 20 charter boats into the program and working. He said there are a few boats still fishing the back bays that don’t want the BP work.

Becker said a continuing problem is BP not paying the VOO boats in a timely manner.

At a state Senate committee hearing on the BP disaster about a month ago, company officials promised this was soon to improve, with millions being released to pay the fishermen. But Becker said there are still problems.

“Some guys have been working for two months, spending money out of their own pockets, and haven’t been paid at all,” Becker said.

Read more: http://www.sunherald.com/2010/07/07/2315940/bp-pledges-to-improve-vessels.html#ixzz0t5hR6aCW

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