Hercules Offshore was a maritime company headquartered in Houston, Texas that offered drilling services and liftboats, self-propelled, self-lifting vessels, jackup rigs, inspection services, maintenance, and decommissioning services. Hercules faced lawsuits over personal injury and claims of negligence. Most recently, Hercules faced Chapter 11 bankruptcy and ultimately chose to sell assets instead of reorganizing.
Hercules Operations and Fleet
Hercules Offshore had a large fleet of offshore drilling rigs and liftboats that operated worldwide. The drill rigs could drill to a depth of 35,000 feet and operate in water depths up to 400 feet.
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The most recent fleet statistics made Hercules the owner of one of the largest fleets of jackups, rigs that could be moved into place with legs that then lowered down to the sea floor.
Hercules had jackup rigs operating in offshore waters ranging from just 100 feet to 400 feet. Locations of these rigs included:
- U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico
- The coast of West Africa
- The waters of the Middle East
- Offshore of Asia and India
- In the rough, frigid waters of the North Sea
Various oil and gas companies used the rigs to drill in shallow waters.
In addition to the fleet of nearly 20 jackup rigs, Hercules had a fleet of 19 liftboats. These were largely deployed and used in the Middle East and on the coast of West Africa.
Liftboats are the workhorses of offshore drilling. They are self-propelled and have large, open deck areas. They can also self-elevate on any seafloor to create a stable working surface.
They essentially are boats that carry their legs with them and can plant themselves on the seafloor and lift up as high as needed to get out of the water and provide a working surface.
Hercules stated that it had an incident-free mission for all of its workplaces. It attempted to achieve this goal through leadership and management and with a Quality, Health, Safety, and Environment department that continuously improved strategies.
The company used behavior-based safety training for all workers aligned with the principles of job safety analysis, time out, permit to work, and HERO conversation.
Accidents and Lawsuits Against Hercules
Despite policies and training for safety, Hercules Offshore faced several accidents over the years, in some instances fatal incidents.
Working offshore and with heavy equipment is always dangerous. Companies like Hercules were responsible for taking all reasonable steps to keep workers safe, but sometimes they failed.
One incident led to a lawsuit against the company. The worker sued Hercules and accused the company of gross negligence and disregard for worker safety as provided under maritime law.
The incident occurred when two men were working on a Hercules jackup rig. They were working on installing a well casing in the rig’s jacked-up position.
The two men, Barker and Broussard, were cutting straps to a pollution pan on the rig’s deck. Typically this part of the rig is welded in place, but in this instance, it was held only by the straps.
The men didn’t realize this, and Broussard, standing on the pan when they cut the straps, fell through the deck and hit his head on a metal beam. The accident was fatal for Broussard, but Barker was not physically injured.
Barker filed a lawsuit against Hercules over the incident, citing his emotional trauma of seeing his friend plummet to his death. He sought damages under the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act and other maritime laws.
He accused the company of negligence in not welding the pan in place. Unfortunately for Barker, he could not meet one criterion of maritime law according to the courts, and his case was dismissed.
Another safety incident occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2013 but fortunately led to no worker injuries. A natural gas well ruptured, which caused a Hercules shallow water rig to catch fire and partially collapse into the water. Forty-four people on the rig were evacuated promptly, and none were hurt.
Bankruptcy and Restructuring
Safety issues have not been Hercules Offshore’s only concern in recent years. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2015, hoping to restructure debt and continue the business.
It hoped to cut more than $1 billion of debt through the restructuring and borrow money to build a new oil rig. Some blamed the downturn and need to restructure on the dropping oil price, but Hercules also may have suffered for having older rigs that couldn’t compete with newer ones from other companies.
In 2016 the company announced that it could not find a buyer, so it returned to bankruptcy protection. It also announced that it would start selling off assets and shutting down operations worldwide.
For the many workers on Hercules rigs and liftboats, this means being out of work and looking for new jobs in an industry experiencing a downturn.
Coping after a Maritime Injury
The case of Barker versus Hercules is an interesting illustration of how maritime law can protect workers but can also be interpreted differently.
The court eventually found that Barker could not prove one crucial aspect of the law in his case, so he could not get compensation for his suffering. This highlights the importance of getting suitable, qualified, and experienced legal representation in the event of an injury while working in the maritime industry.
If you have been injured on the job, you should always get medical care right away, but the next thing to do is ensure an accident report has been filed.
Your next step is to talk to a maritime lawyer. Never sign anything your employer offers until you have done this, or you may miss out on what you are owed.
Many companies will try to give you less than you could get if you file a claim or lawsuit. Protect your rights by working with someone familiar with maritime law.