Creative Commons License photo credit: yummyporky

A special oil-spill class set up by BP Tuesday to train Vietnamese fishers in their native language went poorly, with translators giving up just minutes into the four-hour session, and bilingual audience members struggling to fill the gap, one observer said.

Those attending got the necessary certification and are qualified to be called into service by BP, but it’s not clear how many in the class of 200 people comprehended the oil-cleanup and safety information presented.

One BP official admitted that the interpreters spoke a different dialect than the audience, and another said the company still intends to provide information to non-English speakers, though he didn’t elaborate.

About 20 minutes into the class, the Vietnamese interpreting was stopped and the training continued in English, said Lauren Butz, who works for the Mary Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corportation, which helped organize the event. Some of the bilingual fishers volunteered to translate questions as they arose but “they seemed frustrated,” she said.

The training session is required before the sailors can add their names to a BP list of available workers. Hundreds have attended several such classes across the region, but BP has said it needs only small percentage of those who qualified.

Mary Queen of Vietnam Church pastor, the Rev. Vien Nguyen, requested the training at a community forum Friday. The community group was told Monday afternoon that the class was set for Tuesday, which organizers said was barely enough time to contact the fishers, who are spread throughout the area.

The Community Development Corporation is now requesting that BP pay the fishers for their time in training, but it doesn’t appear that BP will be entertaining that request. The company has not paid any other of the trainees, which it euphemistically refers to as “volunteers,” even though they are paid contract workers.
“We did not set this up to pay people to attend the trainings,” BP representative Hugh Depland said in an interview this morning. “I woud be happy to bring that into the conversation around how we are going to recruit and deploy people, but we have made it very clear that people who want to volunteer can do so and can take the training, but that there will be many more people wanting to have their boats involved than we can hire.”

Depland said that BP’s claims process will provide a month’s pay of $5,000 for those fishers not hired in the clean up.

There have been complaints that the claims phone operators  do not speak Vietnamese. BP spokeswoman Melanie Ostopowich said that issue has been addressed.

“If someone calls in and requests a Vietnamese adjuster, we’ll take their information down and have one of our adjusters call them back,” she said.

She didn’t know precisely how many Vietnamese speakers are on staff, but she said there were several.