NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- BP marked the first anniversary of the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill by filing lawsuits claiming its business partners caused the disaster.
A year after the rig explosion that killed 11 workers and triggered the worst offshore oil spill in American history, President Barack Obama vowed to hold BP and others accountable for "the painful losses that they've caused."
BP in turn filed lawsuits Wednesday alleging negligence by rig owner Transocean and by Cameron International, which made the device that failed to stop the spill. Both of those companies filed their own claims, a reminder that lengthy court battles lie ahead.
The disaster began on the night of April 20, 2010, when the Deepwater Horizon rig burst into flames. Most of the crew was able to escape, but two days later the rig toppled into the Gulf and sank to the sea floor. Over the next 85 days, 206 million gallons of oil -- 19 times more than the Exxon Valdez spilled -- spewed from the well.
Parents, siblings and wives of the 11 workers -- whose bodies were never recovered -- boarded a helicopter Wednesday to see the waters where their loved ones perished. The helicopter took them from New Orleans out to the well site, circled around so that people on both sides of the aircraft could see and then returned to shore, said Arleen Weise, whose son, Adam, was killed. The only indication they were at the site was an announcement from the pilot, she said.
"It was just a little emotional, seeing where they were," Weise said by phone from Houston.
In a statement, Obama paid tribute to those killed in the blast and said that despite significant progress toward mitigating the spill's worst impacts, the job is not done.
"We continue to hold BP and other responsible parties fully accountable for the damage they've done and the painful losses that they've caused," he said.
The Department of Justice announced Thursday that BP has agreed has agreed to provide $1 billion in areas damaged by the spill to rebuild coastal marshes, replenish beaches, conserve ocean habitat for injured wildlife and restore barrier islands. The agreement does not affect BP's potential legal liability.
BP said in its lawsuit filed in federal court in New Orleans that Cameron International provided a blowout preventer with a faulty design and alleged that negligence by the manufacturer helped cause the disaster. The suit seeks unspecified damages to help BP pay for tens of billions of dollars in liabilities.
BP also sued rig owner Transocean for at least $40 billion in damages, accusing it of causing the catastrophe. BP says every single safety system and device and well control procedure on the Deepwater Horizon failed.
Late Wednesday, BP sued cement contractor Halliburton alleging fraud, negligence and concealing material facts in connection with its work on the rig.
In a statement, Transocean called BP's lawsuit desperate, specious and unconscionable.
"The Deepwater Horizon was a world-class drilling rig manned by a top-flight crew that was put in jeopardy by BP, the operator of the Macondo well, thorough a series of cost-saving decisions that increased risk -- in some cases, severely," Transocean said.
Houston-based Cameron noted in a statement emailed to AP that Wednesday was the deadline under the relevant statute for all parties to file claims against each other. It said that it has filed claims of its own to protect itself.
A presidential commission has concluded that a cascade of technical and managerial failures -- including a faulty cement job -- caused the disaster. BP, the oil giant which owns the blown-out well, has paid billions in cleanup costs and to compensate victims. The company has estimated its total liability at $40.9 billion, but it might have to pay many billions more, especially if its officials were to be found criminally negligent in still pending investigations and trials. For now, though, the company has rebounded relatively well, with its stock just 20 percent below its pre-spill value.
"We are committed to meet our obligations to those affected by this tragedy and we will continue our work to strengthen safety and risk management across BP," BP chief executive Bob Dudley said in a message on the company's website. "But most of all today, we remember 11 fellow workers and we deeply regret the loss of their lives."
Solemn ceremonies in New Orleans and elsewhere underscored the delicate healing that is only now taking shape. Oil still occasionally rolls up on beaches in the form of tar balls, and fishermen face an uncertain future.
Louis and Audrey Neal of Pass Christian, Miss., who make their living from crabbing, said it's gotten so bad since the spill that they're contemplating divorce and facing foreclosure.
"I don't see any daylight at the end of this tunnel. I don't see any hope at all. We thought we'd see hope after a year, but there's nothing," Audrey Neal said.
His wife said the couple received about $53,000 from BP early on, but that was just enough money to cover three months of debt. They haven't received any funds from an administrator handing out compensation from a $20 billion fund set up by BP, they said.
Still, there are some signs that normalcy is returning. Traffic jams on the narrow coastal roads of Alabama, crowded seafood restaurants in Florida and families vacationing along the Louisiana coast attest to the fact that familiar routines are returning, albeit slowly.
John Williams spent the oil spill anniversary trying to catch mackerel on the fishing pier at Gulf State Park in Gulf Shores, Ala. Hundreds lined the pier.
The state banned anglers from keeping their catch off the pier last year because of the oil, but coolers were full of big redfish and king mackerel on Wednesday.
"People will be back. It's pretty down here, and it's good to be out here," said Williams, of Daphne.
Most scientists agree that environmental damage wasn't as bad as some predicted, said Christopher D'Elia, dean at the School of the Coast and Environment at Louisiana State University. But biologists are still concerned about the spill's long-term effect on marine life.
Accumulated oil is believed to lie on the bottom of the Gulf, and it still shows up as a thick, gooey black crust along miles of Louisiana's marshy shoreline. Scientists have begun to notice that the land in many places is eroding, and plants have been damaged.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said more than 300 miles of Louisiana coastline continues to see some BP oil. He was joined by the presidents of six coastal parishes for a commemoration on Grand Isle, a coastal barrier island that took major impact from the oil.
Playing on a theme in BP's advertising during the spill, Jindal urged the company to continue to fund coastal restoration and to speed up claims payments to those affected by the oil. "We continue to call on BP to fulfill the promises of their ads. We continue to call on BP to truly make it right."
Earlier Wednesday, Ted Petrie, back from his first shrimping run since the spill, docked his boat at the Grand Isle marina.
He said he worries about the Gulf fishing industry's long-term prospects. That's why he is opting to pursue his claim against BP in court rather than settle for a quick payout from the company's fund, as many of his fellow fishermen have done.
Still, he said he's grateful to be back on the water doing the job he has done for 40 years. He hauled in about 2,000 pounds of shrimp in three days, enough for a modest profit.
"It feels good," said Petrie, 50. "A fisherman has it in their blood. They just like to do it."
Associated Press writers Melissa Nelson in Pensacola, Fla.; Jay Reeves in Gulf Shores, Ala.; Brian Skoloff in Salt Lake City, Utah; Michael Kunzelman in Grand Isle, La., and Kevin McGill in New Orleans contributed to this report. Videographer Jason Bronis contributed from Baton Rouge, La.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
APTV 04-21-11 1333CDT