In this April 21, 2010 file photo, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns in the Gulf of Mexico. AP Photo/Gerald Herbert

BP faces protests at shareholder meeting

BP will face protests at a shareholder meeting in London today, as fishermen complain of poor compensation for the oil spill and investors condemn excessive executive pay packets.

BP FACES WAVES of protests at its shareholder meeting in London today as fishermen from the US Gulf Coast complain about poor compensation for the oil spill and institutional investors protest against excessive executive pay packets.

But the company has gained some critical breathing room on another major problem — at the last minute, it has gained an extension to the original Thursday deadline to complete a stalled major deal in Russia amid a dispute with other venture partners in that country.

Just ahead of the annual general meeting, which is expected to attract hundreds of disgruntled investors, BP said Russia’s OAO Rosneft had agreed to move the deadline to complete a $16 billion share swap to May 16.

Rosneft had initially refused to budge on the deadline, throwing the deal into doubt and casting a large shadow over the shareholder meeting — the first since the Macondo well blowout in the Gulf almost a year ago that sparked off the biggest oil spill in US history.

Rosneft spokesman Rustam Kazharov confirmed the deadline extension, but declined to comment when asked whether the company planned to look for another partner to replace BP in the deal to explore the Russian sector of the Arctic.

Adding to BP’s woes, two of the world’s biggest pension funds have added their names to a growing list of investors planning to vote against the company’s annual report at the meeting. Complaints include the level of executive bonuses and the re-election of a key safety executive.

Indigenous communities angry at the company’s involvement in tar sands extraction in Canada and scores of local workers embroiled in a dispute at a BP-owned biofuels plant in northern England, are also planning protests outside the meeting at London’s vast ExCel centre in London’s Docklands district.

BP PLC investors who have watched the company lose a quarter of its market value, or some $55 billion, in the past 12 months, as well as losing their valuable dividend payments, are ready to put the company on the spot.

The meeting is scheduled just days shy of the anniversary of the explosion that killed 11 workers and began the spill that has so far cost BP some $40 billion — and former CEO Tony Hayward his job.

It is also the first opportunity many investors have had to publicly address BP management.

A group of fishermen from the US Gulf Coast who were hit by the spill have bought shares in the company to give them the right to attend the meeting — and keep the disaster in the spotlight.

“I am coming to articulate the anger of thousands of Gulf Coast residents whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed while the BP board continues to prosper,” said Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation fisherwoman from Texas.

Byron Encalade, president of the Louisiana Oystermen Association, said he planned to tackle the company over its compensation process, claiming many oystermen have been denied payments or given insufficient payouts.

“We’ve not been made whole: our fishing grounds have been depleted, our oysters are dead and we’re not receiving the funds we need to support and sustain ourselves,” Encalade said. “We’re seeing money going everywhere but at ground zero. We’re the communities at ground zero, the first to be put out of work and we’re going to be the last to be able to go back to work and sustain ourselves.”

- AP