Widow of oil rig worker goes to D.C.

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 11, 2010

NATCHEZ — This month, for the first time in a long while, Courtney Kemp shed happy tears.

Kemp of Jonesville is the widow of 27-year-old Roy Wyatt Kemp, one of the 11 workers killed in the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Since her husband’s death, Kemp has traveled to Washington, D.C., three times, urging legislators to overturn a little known 1920s law so the families of the 11 workers can seek larger damages for their tragic loss.

The Death on the High Seas Act currently prevents the workers’ families from suing BP, Transocean and other companies involved in drilling operations for compensation excluding funeral expenses and a portion of the workers’ lost wages.

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Kemp said she talked with several legislators during her visits, including U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

“Basically we were advocating to different congressmen and senators that this act should be changed, and how it would greatly affect our families,” Kemp said. “We also stressed the need to make safety regulations the most important priority.”

The U.S. House of Representatives July 1 overwhelmingly passed the legislation the families were seeking as Kemp looked on from the gallery.

“I was sitting with (widows) Shelley Anderson and Natalie Roshto, and Keith Jones, whose son was killed in the explosion,” Kemp said. “We just cried tears of joy. It was a relief for us, but definitely one of our milestones we have to overcome.

“We want to make companies accountable for their wrongdoing, and we want to let other oil rig industry workers know that we are fighting for them and better safety regulations.”

The bill the House passed would permit the workers’ families to sue for grief, mental anguish and suffering. The change would also include passengers of ships on the high seas, including cruise lines.

BP and cruise companies are actively opposing the change. In a letter to the Florida Congressional delegation, Cruise Lines International Association, Inc., which represents the vast majority of cruise lines in the U.S., states the bill would have sweeping consequences because it applies to all deaths arising beyond U.S. waters, including incidents involving foreign nationals.

Cruise Lines International too argues the damage awards outlined in the bill are unpredictable, and claims will vary dramatically from case to case.

Kemp said the next hurdle is getting the bill through the U.S. Senate, and she will travel to Washington, D.C., again before Aug. 1 in an attempt to persuade more legislators.

Kemp said despite the Deepwater Horizon explosion, she will continue to support drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The Gulf Coast states are so reliable on the oil industry to provide jobs. In Louisiana, it’s oil field or agriculture,” Kemp said. “(Stopping drilling) is so detrimental to our economy.”

Kemp said she and her family is grateful for the support and prayers they have received since Wyatt’s death. Wyatt is also survived by two young daughters, Kaylee and Maddison.

On Kemp’s initial trip to Washington, D.C., President Obama met with family members of the 11 victims. Kemp said she was not nervous to meet the commander-in-chief.

“I was not nervous at all because this is my life and I was talking about my life,” Kemp said. “It was very nice of (Obama) to invite us to the White House to offer his personal condolences. He was very sympathetic to all the families, and he ensured us he would do his best to see to it this tragedy would never happen again as far as dealing with safety regulations.

“We are doing as well as can be expected. Every day is different,” Kemp said. “We pray every day that the Lord will give us the strength to make it through the day.

“Wyatt told me if something happens to him, I should not dwell on it, so I’m trying not to.”