June 25, 2010
It’s a hot afternoon on the crowded docks of the Venice Marina. To kill time, boat owner Rennie Buras and his crew cut up and laugh while waiting with the other boats, all packed with boom and oil mops, for the green light from BP to set off for Grand Isle to help with the clean up.
The guys tell me BP makes everyone take tests before shipping out, which sounds reasonable enough to ensure safety. But the questions - True or false, if you get dizzy, drink water? True or false, if it looks like your hand might get pinched, should you move it? - seem ludicrous to veteran fishermen. And half the fishermen speak only Vietnamese and don’t understand the questions in the first place, so the proctor issuing the exam finally screams the correct answer!
BP’s work instructions also seem silly to the men. Work 20 minutes, rest for 40. Don’t lift more than 40 pounds. Child’s play for these pros.
They’ve been ready since Tuesday. It’s Friday and still they wait. Three men will live and work on this boat for the next three weeks. It’s tight—three bunk beds, a sink and a stovetop, but no one complains about the close quarters, only that the whole process is so disorganized and slow. BP promised to provide food and supplies, but as the wait drags on two of the fishermen make last minute runs for more cigarettes.
A shrimper on the docks tells me that it was slow after Hurricane Ike but that the season after Katrina was one of his best. This season was shaping up to be great too. Now he and his son, an oysterman, are both working for BP as boat captains in the cleanup effort. He’d rather be shrimping, but wants to get what he can from BP while it lasts. Who knows, he wonders, BP may quit paying, they may go bankrupt. Also, while the clean up work may last six months or longer, who knows when fishing will begin again. For now, he’ll start saving for the time after BP’s gone and no one’s paying lost wages. And, of course, keep on waiting.-Mary Clayton Carl