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Gulf oil spill: Hearings on BP disaster canceled as witnesses say they won't show

July 20, 2010 |  6:28 pm
None of the five witnesses called to testify will appear at Wednesday’s hearing of the U.S. Coast Guard-Interior Department probe into what caused the Deepwater Horizon oil rig to explode.

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Hung Nguyen said the panel was notified shortly before 5 p.m. Tuesday that four of the five people set to appear, all employees of Transocean, the owner of the rig, said they had changed their minds and would not appear. A fifth employee, Daun Winslow, had already been rescheduled to appear at hearings scheduled for Aug. 23-27 in Houston.

The panel has been set back by a handful of key witnesses failing to attend, calling in sick or refusing to testify on 5th Amendment grounds that they have the right not to provide testimony that could be self-incriminating. Two of BP’s top officials on the rig the day of the explosion, Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine, failed to show up Tuesday, with Kaluza invoking his 5th Amendment rights, and Vidrine’s doctor supplying a medical note.

Both men gave the same reasons in May, when they also were called to testify before the panel, which has been meeting in suburban New Orleans.

Testimony from both men, who represented BP’s interests on the Deepwater Horizon, would shed light on what happened in the crucial hours before the explosion.

U.S. Coast Guard Senior Chief Petty Officer Mike O’Berry said the four Transocean employees “chose to not voluntarily come in to testify,” and their decision came about 40 minutes before the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearings. As a result, Wednesday’s hearings were canceled. They are expected to resume Thursday and conclude Friday.

It was not immediately clear late Tuesday whether the four were invited to testify or had been subpoenaed.

David Adler, a lawyer for Mark Hay and Billy Stringfellow, both Transocean employees, said he did not have access to documentation that would be used to question his clients.

“I’d like to be able to sit down with my clients and read the documents,” Adler said, adding that his clients were willing to testify.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II in Kenner, La.