Those filing oil claims now have another option

By A.J. Giardina – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Bennie Casper's shrimp boat has been sitting idle on Biloxi's Back Bay for months. A docked boat doesn't make any money.

"We can't afford to fill the boat back up to even attempt go try to go back to work," Casper said.

He filed an oil spill claim on August 23, the day Ken Feinberg took over the claims process. Since then, Casper said it's been one road block after another in his attempts to get paid. Weeks later, he learned the Gulf Coast Claims Facility lost his documents.

"October the 13th is when I finally realized they lost my paperwork," Casper said. "And it took me, myself, to find out myself that it was lost. A gentlemen that told me that all the documents were lost."

Michael Tillman has a similar story of frustration with the claims office. He and his wife invested all their retirement money in a charter boat business in Pass Christian that sank this summer.

After receiving money from BP for two months, he said he was told to re-file his claim.

"It's been three months and two weeks since I filed," Tillman stated.  "I've been in review for six weeks and I've been told the same thing over and over, that it's in review. There's nothing I can do about it. And the bad part about it the 800 number that they give you to call has no information whatsoever."

I went to one of the claims offices here in South Mississippi to ask about the fisherman's complaints. No one there would comment about delays in the payment process.

Now fishermen have learned that the U.S. Coast Guard could be coming to their rescue through the National Pollution Funds Center.

"They will take and put the pressure on BP to hurry up and pay you," Tillman said. "But if they don't, then they'll pay you and they'll collect the money."

I spoke with Bob Warren in the National Pollution Funds Center claims office in Arlington, Virginia. He confirmed that the Coast Guard will assist those denied claims and those still waiting to hear from the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

Fishermen will have to do more paperwork for the Coast Guard. But once that's done, the Pollution Funds Center will investigate the claim.

More fishermen are learning about this option.

"I talked to National Pollution today and they said that they had to take and double their office because of the amount of calls they have from people that filed with GCCF," Tillman explained.

Warren said to begin the process with the National Pollution Funds Center, you must call the Center for Claims Office at 1-800-280-7118.

Warren admitted that the Coast Guard claims office has been expanded because of so many phone calls from the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

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