NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The Justice Department reached a $1.4 billion settlement Thursday with Transocean Ltd., the owner of the drilling rig that sank after an explosion killed 11 workers and spawned the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The proposed settlement resolves the department's civil and criminal probes of Transocean's role in the Deepwater Horizon rig disaster. It requires the Switzerland-based company to pay $1 billion in civil penalties and $400 million in criminal penalties and plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Water Act, according to a court filing.
The deal, which is subject to a federal judge's approval, also calls for Transocean to implement a series of operational safety and emergency response improvements on its rigs.
"This resolution of criminal allegations and civil claims against Transocean brings us one significant step closer to justice for the human, environmental and economic devastation wrought by the Deepwater Horizon disaster," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement.
Transocean said it believes the settlement is in the best interest of its shareholders and employees and eliminates "much of the uncertainty associated with the accident."
"This is a positive step forward, but it is also a time to reflect on the 11 men who lost their lives aboard the Deepwater Horizon," the company said in a statement. "Their families continue to be in the thoughts and prayers of all of us at Transocean."
Much of the $1.4 billion will fund environmental restoration projects and spill-prevention research and training.
The company has two years to pay the $1 billion civil penalty. Congress approved legislation that dedicates 80 percent of the civil penalty for environmental and economic recovery projects in the Gulf states.
BP PLC, which leased the rig from Transocean, already has agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties and plead guilty to manslaughter and other criminal charges related to the spill. The deal with BP doesn't resolve the federal government's civil claims against the London-based oil company.
Transocean previously announced it had reserved $2 billion for paying claims related to the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
David Uhlmann, a University of Michigan law professor and former chief of the Justice Department's environmental crimes section, said the $1 billion civil penalty is a record amount for an environmental case. But he expressed surprise that Transocean isn't paying more in criminal penalties or facing manslaughter charges of its own.
"The Justice Department clearly views BP as the most culpable party in the criminal cases," Uhlmann said. "But Transocean's negligence also is responsible for the workers' deaths and the spill."
Transocean also said in a September regulatory filing that it had rejected settlement offers last year from BP and a group of attorneys for Gulf Coast residents and businesses who blame the spill for economic damages. Those claims are still pending.
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