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Approve oil spill deal, judge urged

BP and lawyers for businesses and people who lost money in the Gulf oil spill urged a US judge to give final approval to a class-action settlement.

US District Judge Carl Barbier heard arguments from lawyers who negotiated the deal as well as other lawyers who had objected to parts of it.

London-based BP estimates it will pay 7.8 billion dollars (£4.9bn) to resolve claims, but the settlement is not capped and the company could pay out more or less.

Judge Barbier, who did not immediately rule, said the New Orleans hearing was designed to help him determine if the settlement was "fair, reasonable and adequate" and he did not have the authority to rewrite or renegotiate it.

He said he would rule in the coming days but added that some of the objections he heard were "frankly, not made in good faith and bordered on being frivolous".

Judge Barbier gave preliminary approval to the agreement in May. Since then, thousands of people have opted out of the deal to pursue their claims individually. BP lawyer Rick Godfrey said fewer people opted out than the company had expected.

Jim Roy, a lead plaintiffs' lawyer, said the settlement could resolve more than 100,000 claims. "This settlement provides the class with an opportunity to try to put this behind them and get on with their lives," he said.

BP has agreed to pay 2.3 billion dollars (£1.4bn) for seafood-related claims by commercial fishing vessel owners, captains and deckhands. The amount is nearly five times more than the average industry revenue between 2007 and 2009, Mr Godfrey said.

The agreement also calls for paying medical claims by clean-up workers and others who say they suffered illnesses from exposure to the oil or chemicals used to disperse it. In addition, BP has agreed to spend 105 million dollars (£66m) over five years to set up a Gulf Coast health outreach programme and pay for medical examinations.

The settlement does not resolve separate claims brought by the US government and Gulf Coast states against BP and its partners on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. Those involve environmental damage from the nation's worst offshore oil spill. Neither does it resolve claims against Switzerland-based rig owner Transocean and Houston, Texas-based cement contractor Halliburton.

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