50 businesses file class action lawsuit against 2 companies involved in Texas oil spill

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by Sherry Williams / KHOU 11 News

khou.com

Posted on March 26, 2014 at 7:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 26 at 9:04 PM

GALVESTON, Texas -- Booms are blocking small commercial fishermen from going out into Galveston Bay.

"We just want to fish, you know? We just want to get out there and fish and make our living," said Capt. Matt Garner, owner of 3G Fishing Charters.

Large vessels are back in business, but Coast Guard officials said it's not safe to have a lot of small boat traffic while oil clean up operations are going on.

"Skimming vessels, tending to boom, it's important that those responders are kept safe,” said Lt. Sam Danus, U.S. Coast Guard.

Smaller vessels are not permitted within “safety zones” which include all of the Texas City Channel, portions of Galveston Bay, Houston Ship Channel, Galveston Channel Entrance, the Pelican Island Bridge and portions of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Boat owners who are affected said the restrictions are breaking them. Garner's family has been in the charter fishing business 20 years. A few weeks ago, they added a restaurant to their bait shop. Not a soul was in the place today.

"Our livelihood is just shut down,” Garner said. “We can't make any money. We can't feed our families."

He is part of a class action lawsuit, that includes about 50 businesses, that has just been filed in Galveston against the two companies involved in Saturday's collision that caused the spill. Company representatives for Cleopatra Shipping Agency, which is based in Greece, could not be reached for comment on being sued. An attorney for Kirby Inland Marine, the other company involved in the collision and resulting spill, said she could not comment on pending litigation.

This is the start of fishing season so Garner's attorney said the timing of the spill couldn't be worse. He also wants to know exactly why the collision occurred.

"There's no reason with today's modern navigational aids that any collision like this should occur, especially given what they're carrying,” Attorney Sean O’Rourke said.

He did not name a damage amount.

Meantime, the operator of a local seafood shop said he is not sure seafood caught in the area right now would be safe for consumption if fishermen were being allowed to go out and fish.

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