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Disasters

US judge approves BP gulf oil spill settlement

A US judge has accepted an agreement by BP to plead guilty for its role in the Deepwater Horizion disaster. The oil giant will pay a record $4.5 billion (3.34 billion euros) in penalties for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

"The judge has accepted the plea," a court official said Tuesday. BP will plead guilty to manslaughter and other charges.

The spill began on April 20, 2010 after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig killed 11 workers. It took 87 days to cap the leak. During the incident, some 4.9 million barrels (206 million gallons) spewed into the ocean, making it the worst environmental disaster in US history.

'Just punishment'

BP had agreed last November to plead guilty to charges related to the workers' deaths, as well as lying to Congress about the size of the spill. The company also faces five years' probation and the imposition of two monitors who will oversee its safety and ethics for the next four years.

US District Judge Sarah Vance said the plea deal was "just punishment" considering the risks of litigation for BP and the alternatives to the settlement. She told victims' relatives she had read their "truly gut-wrenching" written statements and factored them into her decision.

"I heard and truly understand your feelings and the losses you suffered," said Vance.

With the plea agreement approved, BP has 60 days to send a remedial plan to the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency detailing how it plans to meet all its stipulations.

Ongoing litigation

The deal doesn't resolve the federal government's civil claims against BP. The company could still pay billions more in penalties for environmental damage.

Several government investigations have criticized BP, oil rig operator Transocean and Halliburton - the firm responsible for the well's faulty cement job - for cutting corners and missing crucial warning signs.

BP has agreed to a separate $7.8 billion settlement with lawyers for Gulf Coast residents and businesses who claim the spill left them with multiple losses.

For the criminal settlement, BP agreed to pay almost $1.3 billion in fines. The settlement also includes $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences.

Four current or former BP employees have also been indicted on separate criminal charges.

dr/ipj (AP, Reuters, AFP)