Saturday, 24 July 2010

Gagging the Strasbourg Geese

This one is almost beyond belief: Transocean not only inhibited alarms on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, it would appear that all of its rigs, all around the world, are routinely operated in a similar state. This would imply that their rigs in UK waters are in breach of the law and that they should be prosecuted forthwith, regardless of what comes out of the current American Federal Blamestorming process. (President Obama said before it even started that the inquiry was going to find "British Petroleum" solely responsible for everything.)

It really is time we were told who owns Transocean's voting stock; BP's shareholdings and accounts are a matter of public record. (Although based in Houston, Texas, Transcoean is registered in Switzerland and this means that most investors will own what UK law would call debenture stock or preference shares, which do not come with a vote at board meetings, or even the right to attend these. Holders do, however, get paid before holders of voting shares if the company is liquidated -and the accounts are straight. It can be a criminal offence in Switzerland to even try and find out who the voting stock holders are, let alone what their holdings are worth and what their voting record on company policy has been. Swiss industrial equities are for investors who get a thrill out of wearing blindfolds.)


Anonymous said...

Very difficult to understand why there are so many secrets regarding ownerships and/or interests in businesses in Switzerland, Texas or anywhere else.

Medawar said...

Well, the balance of probabilities is that the company with something to hide is more likely to be the one registered in Geneva and somewhat less likely to be the one with a registered office in London, where you can be jailed or fined for failing to keep proper accounts.

Prior to being registered in Switzerland, Transocean did a bit of jurisdiction-hopping within the United States: registering elsewhere than Texas each time.

Registry in Texas would not only mean complying with Texan laws on disclosure, filing and publishing accounts, it would place the company's account keeping operation under the jurisdiction of the Texas Rangers. Despite the wild west associations, the primary duty of the Rangers is to protect commerce and it's hard to see why any reputable company would seek to avoid such a legendary law-enforcement body.

ML said...

I don't know anything about the business end of things, but I know a lot about the Texas Rangers. As far as I can tell, they all work for the gov., the lt. gov. (ex-CIA, Bolivia), and the drug cartels. The former head of the Rangers' CID lived in a house owned by my former father-in-law in Fredericksburg, TX. I have additional information on them posted on my vocct blog.

Medawar said...

It's probably still easier for the Rangers to turn a blind eye if the company records don't have to be filed in Texas. However, if they have been corrupted, it is a very sad end for one of America's most famous law enforcement bodies.

More importantly, the Federal Government will never know what taxes it has missed, and the main reason why Congress make such a fuss about BP's safety record, is because it's the only company whose records are actually available to them, via Company's House.

The President's own inquiry chairman has found that BP were essentially right in thinking that Haliburton's cement was the primary cause of the leak, but it wouldn't have turned into a disaster if the alarms hadn't been stifled!

Haliburton may have caused the leak, but Transocean's meddling with the alarms turned it into an incident with mass fatalities, and negated the best chance of controlling the leak with the equipment fitted for that purpose.

One of the alarms they switched off would have automatically closed vents into control room and crew rest areas if gas was detected, and that would have given the men minutes, rather than seconds, to react to save their lives -and perhaps get the BOP to work.

Medawar said...

A second, more thoughtful response is that Swiss registration makes conflicts and convergences of interest far less visible to Transocean's customers.

It isn't entirely clear that Transocean does not enjoy a global monopoly on the provision of certain services.

Opacity may be part of the business plan for that reason, above any other.