My Toughest Case: Burmah Agate Oil Spill

Antonio J. Rodriguez

Maritime Law
Managing Partner | Fowler Rodriguez
44 years in practice
B.S. United States Naval Academy
J.D. Loyola University of the South (J.D. Cum Laude)
Native of New Orleans

There is a photograph of an oil tanker called the Burmah Agate on a wall in attorney Antonio J. Rodriguez’s office.

On the morning of Nov. 1, 1979, the tanker was heading inbound to Galveston Bay when it was struck by a freighter ship called the Mimosa. The incident not only resulted in the loss of 33 lives, it’s often cited as one of the worst oil spill disasters in the U.S.

The accident badly damaged the hull of the Burmah Agate and an estimated 2.6 million gallons of oil were released into the Gulf of Mexico. According to Rodriguez, one of the ships burned for 70 days.

The photograph is a reminder of one of the most challenging cases Rodriguez has worked on in a legal career that spans more than 40 years in maritime, environmental and energy law, and one that inspired his interest in promoting safety in the maritime industry.

“There was a large loss of life during that incident and it started to shift the focus so that more was done with marine pollution law,” he said.

The incident also helped shift the legal focus surrounding liability and recovery of damages when major pollution accidents happen.
Rodriguez grew up in New Orleans. At the age of 17 he went to the United States Naval Academy where he advanced to become a naval officer.

“From where I grew up to my years in the naval academy there was always this focus on the maritime industry,” he said. “A casualty practice was natural for me.”

Rodriguez’s practice began handling major shipping casualties and pollution incidents in the 1970s. Since then, he has helped in the development of a Major Marine Casualty Response Plan for his law firm, Fowler Rodriquez, where he has been managing partner since 1992. That was around when he became more active with the regulatory side with a focus on navigation safety.

He explained that it wasn’t until the passage of the Oil Pollution Act in 1990­—­­shortly after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska March 24, 1989—that there was a set framework that helped streamline and strengthen the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency to respond to catastrophic pollution events.

More recently, Fowler Rodriguez also conducted the legal support for the immediate response stemming from the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010.

His extensive career in maritime law has gone hand-in-hand with teaching law as an adjunct professor of law over the last 34 years at Tulane University Law School.

“It keeps me sharp and current on the topics I focus on,” he said about his teaching position. “It’s been very rewarding.”