Turns out it wasn’t America’s job to inspect or set safety standards for the ill-fated Deepwater Horizon rig. That responsibility fell to the Marshall Islands—a tiny, impoverished cluster of atolls in the Pacific Ocean. Why? Because oil rigs are classified as ships, the Los Angeles Times explains, allowing companies to register them wherever they want. The Marshall Islands didn’t even handle its safety duties itself; it outsourced them to a private company.
The company obligingly gave the Deepwater Horizon a classification that allowed low staffing levels, and allowed a drilling expert to override the captain on crucial decisions on the day of the explosion—something survivors say created confusion and helped cause the disaster. But a spokesman for Transocean says their complaints are “egregiously unfounded and inflammatory,” while the Marshall Islands insists it met international standards. Several House committees are looking into the issue. (Read more Marshall Islands stories.)