Thu., 11:39am: Judge approves Transocean’s plea deal in gulf oil spill

NEW ORLEANS — A federal judge has approved Transocean Ltd.’s agreement with the Justice Department to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge and pay $400 million in criminal penalties for its role in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo accepted Transocean’s plea and imposed the agreed-upon sentence during a hearing Thursday. The Swiss-based drilling company could have withdrawn from the deal if she had rejected it.

Milazzo said she had received no letters objecting to the settlement.

Transocean agreed last month to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Water Act. The company also agreed to pay $1 billion in civil penalties. A different judge will decide whether to accept that part of the settlement.

Transocean owned the rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded and sank over BPs Macondo well in April 2010. The accident killed 11 men and sparked the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster.

Much of the $1.4 billion Transocean agreed to pay will fund environmental-restoration projects and spill-prevention research and training.

BP separately agreed to pay a record $4 billion in criminal penalties and has pleaded guilty to manslaughter and other criminal charges related to the spill. The deal with BP PLC, which U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance approved last month, doesn’t resolve the federal government’s civil claims against the London-based oil company.