Hercules Offshore is a maritime company headquartered in Houston, Texas that provides services and products to international clients around the world. The focus of Hercules is offshore drilling for oil and gas in shallow waters. It offers drilling services and liftboats, self-propelled, self-lifting vessels, as well as jackup rigs, inspection services, maintenance, and decommissioning services for retired platforms, rigs, and drills.
As with any company that deals in offshore drilling, Hercules faces risks and dangers to its workers and employees of other companies using its equipment. The company claims to have a commitment to safety and corporate responsibility and yet it has faced lawsuits over personal injury and claims of negligence. Most recently, Hercules has faced Chapter 11 bankruptcy and has struggled to recover from that restructuring, ultimately choosing to sell assets.
Hercules Operations and Fleet
Hercules Offshore has a large fleet of offshore drilling rigs and liftboats operating around the world. The drill rigs are capable of drilling to a depth of 35,000 feet and can operate in water depths up to 400 feet. The most recent fleet statistics make Hercules the owner of one of the largest fleets of jackups, rigs that can be moved into place with legs that then lower down to the sea floor.
Hercules has jackup rigs operating in waters offshore ranging in depth from just 100 feet to 400 feet. Locations of these rigs include U.S. waters in the Gulf of Mexico, off the coast of West Africa, in the waters off the Middle East, offshore of Asia and India, and in the rough, frigid waters of the North Sea. They are used by various oil and gas companies to drill in shallow waters.
In addition to the fleet of nearly 20 jackup rigs, Hercules has a fleet of 19 liftboats. These are largely deployed and in use 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 states that it has an incident-free mission for all of its workplaces. It attempts to achieve this goal through leadership and management and with a Quality, Health, Safety, and Environment department that continuously improves strategies. The company uses 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
In spite of having policies and training in place for safety, Hercules Offshore has faced a number of incidents over the years, in some instances fatal incidents. Working offshore and with heavy equipment is always dangerous. Companies like Hercules have a responsibility to take all reasonable steps to keep workers safe, but sometimes they fail.
One incident led to a lawsuit against the company, in which the worker involved sued Hercules and accused the company of gross negligence and wanton disregard for worker safety as provided under maritime law. The incident in question 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 deck of the rig. 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 sued Hercules over the incident, citing his own emotional trauma 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 was unable to meet one criteria 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 injuries to workers. A natural gas well ruptured, which caused a Hercules shallow water rig to catch fire and then partially collapse into the water. Forty-four people on the rig were evacuated in a timely fashion and none were hurt.
Bankruptcy and Restructuring
Safety issues have not been Hercules Offshore’s only concerns in recent years. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2015 with the hopes of restructuring debt and continuing 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 price of oil, 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 and so it returned to the protection of bankruptcy. It also announced that it would start selling off assets and begin shutting down operations around the world. 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 also can be interpreted in different ways. The court eventually found that Barker could not prove one crucial aspect of the law in his case and so he was not able to get compensation for his suffering. This highlights just how important it is to get good, 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 to be sure an accident report has been filed. Your third 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 filed a claim or lawsuit. Make sure you protect your rights by working with someone familiar with maritime law.