NEW ORLEANS (AP) " BP has paid less than 12 percent of claims submitted by people and businesses harmed by the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the federal government said Friday, while the new chief of the independent payment office promised to speed the process up.
News of the slow pace of the claims process came as a British news network reported that BP's embattled chief executive Tony Hayward is being relieved of day-to-day responsibility for managing the spill.
The Coast Guard also said it was ramping up efforts to capture the crude closer to shore with the help of private boats. As of Friday morning, between 65 million and 121.6 million gallons of oil have gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, based on federal daily flow rate estimates.
The House Judiciary Committee said in a statement that data it collected showed only $71 million out of an estimated $600 million had been paid as of Tuesday. In addition, the panel said that BP didn't make any payments in the first two weeks following the April 20 explosion and oil spill, and that it hasn't made a single payment for bodily injury or diminished home property value.
Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers said he's concerned that BP "is stiffing too many victims and shortchanging others."
The chief of the new independent office to pay claims said a plan to handle the remaining damage claims will be in place in 30 to 45 days. Kenneth Feinberg, who's overseeing the Independent Claims Facility, said he also hopes to have a program going forward that would provide payment within 30 to 60 days of someone submitting a new claim.
"The challenge here is going to be to evaluate quickly, eligible claims, legitimate claims and get them paid," said Feinberg, who was chosen by President Barack Obama and BP for the role.
Feinberg, who was in Mississippi Friday to meet with Gov. Haley Barbour, reiterated that his office isn't a government program. The lawyer, who oversaw payouts to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, said he will be paid by BP but didn't say how much.
Ire over the spill has been directed at Hayward, the BP chief executive. According to the transcript of an interview with Sky News television released Friday, chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg says that Hayward "is now handing over the operations, the daily operations to (BP Managing Director) Bob Dudley."
The news comes a day after Hayward's grilling by a U.S. House committee. Hayward's refusal to answer lawmakers' questions, claiming that he was out of the loop, left many committee members furious.
BP had announced June 4 that Dudley would lead the long-term response to the oil spill once the leak had been stopped.
A BP spokesman in Houston, Tristan Vanhegan, says the "board still has confidence in Tony."
Earlier in the day, the Coast Guard signaled a shift in strategy to fight the oil, saying it was ramping up efforts to capture the crude closer to shore.
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said an estimated 2,000 private boats in the so-called "vessels of opportunity" program will be more closely linked through a tighter command and control structure to direct them to locations less than 50 miles offshore to skim the oil. Allen, the point man for the federal response to the spill, previously had said surface containment efforts would be concentrated much farther offshore.
Connie Bartenbach, owner of Rental Resources in Ocean Springs, Miss., said Friday that she's been unable to get her claims processed with BP. Her cancellation rates last month were six times higher than normal, and business is getting worse.
"They have somehow lost me in their system. I filed with them on May 18," she said. "I should have gotten a call back long before now."
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
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