Transocean payout on hold after oil spill

TRANSOCEAN, the company that leased the rig at the centre of the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, has been blocked from paying shareholders a $1bn (£640.7m) dividend.

A Swiss regulatory body has rejected plans by Transocean, which leased the Deepwater Horizon rig from BP, to pay shareholders a dividend of 82 cents per share because of its outstanding legal exposure to the spill.

Transocean had planned to pay shareholders in four instalments, but the Commercial Register of the Canton of Zug, a region in northern Switzerland where Transocean is headquartered, has put a halt to this while lawsuits against the company are pending.

On Friday, the US state of Alabama joined the list of those pursuing Transocean and others involved in the rig for damages.

“The defendants were negligent and wanton in their attempts to clean up oil that gushed into and onto Alabama’s waters and shores,” the suit alleges.

Transocean’s dividend plan has drawn sharp criticism in the US. Eleven people were killed in an explosion on the Deepwater rig, which later sank, setting off an oil spill that caused economic and environmental damage along the Gulf coast estimated in the billions of dollars.

Several senators have asked Transocean to postpone making a payout until the company’s liabilities have been evaluated.

Transocean says the payment to shareholders will not affect its legal obligations.

Under pressure from the Obama administration, BP, which has taken responsibility for the cleanup of the oil spill, cancelled its dividend payouts and has agreed to set aside $20bn to help pay for claims.

Transocean says it will appeal the Commercial Register’s decision.