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The Associated Press May 13, 2011, 6:39PM ET

Transocean shareholders OK $1 billion dividend

Shareholders of Transocean Ltd. approved a $1 billion dividend on Friday and rejected a company-backed plan to discharge directors and executives for liability stemming from last year's Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The company also said former chairman and CEO J. Michael Talbert was elected chairman.

Transocean owned the Deepwater Horizon rig that BP PLC was leasing and operating when an explosion killed 11 workers and created the massive oil spill. Both companies face lawsuits.

Transocean board members proposed to discharge themselves and company executives from liability for any actions in 2010, saying the practice is customary for companies in Switzerland, where Transocean is now based.

Shareholders who voted for the proposal would have effectively dropped their right to take part in shareholder lawsuits over the rig explosion.

Lawsuits have charged that the company made misleading statements about safety risks and the ability to prevent blowouts.

The $1 billion dividend will be paid in installments. A previous dividend approved by shareholders was blocked by a Swiss court last year because of lawsuits over the oil spill.

Also, the company said the board elected Talbert to replace the retiring Robert E. Rose as chairman.

Talbert served as Transocean CEO from 1994 to 2002. He was named vice chairman last August.

Another director, Victor E. Grijalva, also retired after Friday's meeting.

Transocean leases drilling rigs and crews to oil and gas companies for offshore operations, many in them in deep water. Last year, its net income tumbled 70 percent, to $961 million, as revenue slipped 17 percent, to $9.6 billion.

The company's shares rose 94 cents to close Friday at $68.42.

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