NEW ORLEANS (AP) — BP PLC closed the book on the Justice Department's criminal probe of its role in the Deepwater Horizon disaster and Gulf oil spill Tuesday, when a federal judge agreed to let the London-based oil giant plead guilty to manslaughter charges for the deaths of 11 rig workers and pay a record $4 billion in penalties.

What the plea deal approved by U.S. District Judge Sarah Vance doesn't resolve, though, is the federal government's civil claims against BP. The company could pay billions more for environmental damage from its 2010 spill.

Vance noted that the company already has racked up more than $24 billion in spill-related expenses and has estimated it will pay a total of $42 billion to fully resolve its liability for the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

The judge said the $4 billion criminal settlement is "just punishment" for BP, even though the company could have paid far more without going broke. In accepting the deal, Vance also cited the risk that a trial could result in a much lower fine for BP, one potentially capped by law at $8.2 million.

The criminal settlement calls for BP to pay nearly $1.3 billion in fines. The largest previous corporate criminal penalty assessed by the Justice Department was a $1.2 billion fine against drug maker Pfizer in 2009.

The plea deal also includes payments of nearly $2.4 billion to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and $350 million to the National Academy of Sciences. The two groups will administer the money to fund Gulf restoration and oil spill prevention projects.

The $4 billion in total penalties are 160 times greater than the $25 million fine that Exxon paid for the 1989 Valdez spill in Alaska, Vance noted.

Before she ruled, the judge heard an apology from a BP executive and emotional testimony from relatives of the 11 workers who died when BP's blown-out Macondo well triggered an explosion on the rig and started the spill.

"I've heard and I truly understand your feelings and the losses you suffered," Vance told the family members.

Keith Jones, whose 28-year-old son, Gordon, died in the rig explosion, said $4 billion isn't adequate punishment.

"It is petty cash to BP," he told Vance. "Their stock went up after this plea deal was announced."

Billy Anderson, whose 35-year-old son, Jason, of Midfield, Texas, died in the blast, recalled the trauma of watching the disaster play out on television.

"These men suffered a horrendous death," he said. "They were basically cremated alive and not at their choice."

BP agreed in November to plead guilty to charges involving the workers' deaths and for lying to Congress about the size of the spill from its broken well, which spewed more than 200 million gallons of oil. Much of it ended up in the Gulf and soiled the shorelines of several states. The company could have withdrawn from the agreement if Vance had rejected it.

BP America vice president Luke Keller apologized to the relatives of the workers who died and for the spill's environmental damage to the Gulf Coast.

"BP knows there is nothing we can say to diminish their loss," he said. "The lives lost and those forever changed will stay with us. We are truly sorry."

Most of the families of rig workers who were killed or injured in the explosion already have settled their claims against BP, through a process separate from this plea deal.

Courtney Kemp-Robertson, whose 27-year-old husband, Roy Wyatt Kemp, of Jonesville, La., died on the rig, said workers had referred to it as the "well from hell" before the explosion.

"By cutting corners, they gambled with the lives of 126 crew members to save a few dollars," she told the judge before turning to address Keller. "They gambled and you lost."

A series of government investigations have blamed the April 20, 2010, blowout on time-saving, cost-cutting decisions by BP and its partners on the drilling project.

Vance told victims' relatives who were in court that she read their "truly gut-wrenching" written statements and factored their words into her decision. She also said she believes BP executives should have personally apologized to family members long before Tuesday's hearing.

"I think BP should have done that out of basic humanity," she said.

BP also has separately agreed to a settlement with lawyers for Gulf Coast residents and businesses who claim the spill cost them money. BP estimates the deal with private attorneys will cost the company roughly $7.8 billion.

In a court filing before the hearing, attorneys for BP and the Justice Department argued that the plea agreement imposes "severe corporate punishment" and will deter BP and other deep-water drilling companies from allowing another disaster to occur.

The Justice Department has reached a separate settlement with rig owner Transocean Ltd. that resolves the government's civil and criminal claims over the Swiss-based company's role in the disaster.

Transocean agreed to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Clean Water Act and pay $1.4 billion in civil and criminal penalties. U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo has scheduled a Feb. 14 hearing to decide whether to accept that criminal settlement. A different judge will decide whether to accept Transocean's civil settlement.

Many relatives of rig workers who died in the blast submitted written statements that were critical of BP's deal. Vance, however, said she couldn't get involved in plea negotiations and only could impose a sentence that adheres to the agreed-upon terms if she accepted it.

Also killed were Aaron Dale "Bubba" Burkeen, 37, of Philadelphia, Miss.; Donald Clark, 49, of Newellton, La.; Stephen Ray Curtis, 40, of Georgetown, La.; Karl Kleppinger Jr., 38, of Natchez, Miss.; Keith Blair Manuel, 56, of Gonzales, La.; Dewey A. Revette, 48, of State Line, Miss.; Shane M. Roshto, 22, of Liberty, Miss.; and Adam Weise, 24, Yorktown, Texas.

In other criminal cases, four current or former BP employees have been indicted. BP rig supervisors Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine are charged with manslaughter, accused of repeatedly disregarding abnormal high-pressure readings that should have been glaring indications of trouble just before the blowout.

David Rainey, BP's former vice president of exploration for the Gulf of Mexico, was charged with withholding information from Congress about the amount of oil that was gushing from the well.

Former BP engineer Kurt Mix was charged with deleting text messages about the company's spill response.

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  • Gulf Coast Battles Continued Spread Of Oil In Its Waters And Coastline

    PORT FOURCHON, LA - JULY 03: Workers clear off some of the oil washing on to Fourchon Beach from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on July 3, 2010 in Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • In this June 5, 2010, file photo Plaquemines Parish coastal zone director P.J. Hahn lifts his boot out of thick beached oil at Queen Bess Island in Barataria Bay, just off the Gulf of Mexico in Plaquemines Parish, La. After three long months, the bleeding from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico has been finally, mercifully stanched. But in so many ways, the prognosis remains uncertain. (Gerald Herbert, AP)

  • Mississippi River water (L) meets sea wa

    Mississippi River water (L) meets sea water and an oil slick that has passsed inside of the protective barrier formed by the Chandeleur Islands, as cleanup operations continue for the BP Deepwater Horizon platform disaster off Louisiana, on May 7, 2010. The Gulf of Mexico oil slick threatens disaster for the fragile US coast, causing clean-up efforts to focus on the best of a bad set of options: fight it there before it arrives here. An army of workers hired by British Petroleum, along with the US Coast Guard and local officials in Louisiana, have rushed to set out protective booms, spread dispersants and burn the oil when they can as it moves toward the shore. The strategy is to deal with the growing slick as much as possible before it laps into wetlands on Louisiana's coast, where its effects could be catastrophic and cleaning it is infinitely more difficult if not impossible. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • An American flag lays in a slick of oil that washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on July 4, 2010 in Gulf Shores, Alabama. The oil spill may have a huge negative economic impact on gulf coast businesses during what should be a busy 4th of July. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Joe Raedle, Getty Images)

  • In this April 21, 2010 file photo taken in the Gulf of Mexico more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig is seen burning. A BP scientist identified a previously unreported deposit of flammable gas that could have played a role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but the oil giant failed to divulge the finding to government investigators for as long as a year, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Associated Press. (Gerald Herbert, AP)

  • In this May 5, 2010 file photo, shrimp boats are used to collect oil with booms in the waters of Chandeleur Sound, La. (Eric Gay, AP)

  • In this June 3, 2010 file photo, a bird is seen on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast after being drenched in oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government's point man on the disaster, said Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010, BP's well "is effectively dead." A permanent cement plug sealed BP's well nearly 2.5 miles below the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico, five agonizing months after an explosion sank a drilling rig and led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. (Charlie Riedel, AP)

  • This May 28, 2010 image taken from a BP live video feed shows fluid escaping from a fractured pipe which has been spouting oil for 36 days on the seabed off the Louisiana coast following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling platform. The United States filed suit on December 15, 2010 against BP and eight other companies for damages stemming from this year's oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the worst in US history. The complaint was filed by the Justice Department with a federal court in New Orleans, where thousands of individuals and small businesses have already sued the oil giant. (AFP / Getty Images)

  • Massive Oil Slick Threatens U.S. Gulf Coast

    GULF OF MEXICO- MAY 5: Gathered concentrated oil burns during a controlled oil fire May 5, 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Coast Guard oversaw the oil burn after the sinking and subsequent massive oil leak because of the sinking of the Deepwater Horizon oil platform off the coast of Louisiana. (Photo by Justin E. Stumberg/U.S. Navy via Getty Images)

  • In this aerial photo taken in the Gulf of Mexico, more than 50 miles southeast of Venice on Louisiana's tip, an oil slick is seen as the Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns. (Gerald Herbert, AP)

  • BP CEO Tony Hayward (C) answers questions from the media on an oil-stained beach on May 24, 2010 at Port Fourchon, Louisiana. Hayward said that BP is doing everything possible to clean up the massive oil spill still gushing into the Gulf of Mexico. Officials now say, however, that it may be impossible to clean the hundreds of miles of coastal wetlands and islands affected. (John Moore, Getty Images)

  • A brown pelican covered with oil from th

    A brown pelican covered with oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, swims at Sandy Point in the Gulf of Mexico, near Venice, Louisiana, June 15, 2010, prior to being captured by team of biologists from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Birds are caught and then cleaned at the Fort Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Gulf Coast Battles Continued Spread Of Oil In Its Waters And Coastline

    GULFPORT, MS - JULY 1: An Oil cleanup worker uses a shovel to remove thick oil that washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on July 1, 2010 in Gulfport, Mississippi. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • In this June 3, 2010 file photo, a brown pelican is mired in heavy oil on the beach at East Grand Terre Island along the Louisiana coast. Retired Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the federal government's point man on the disaster, said Sunday, Sept. 19, 2010, BP's well "is effectively dead." A permanent cement plug sealed BP's well nearly 2.5 miles below the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico, five agonizing months after an explosion sank a drilling rig and led to the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history. (Charlie Riedel, AP)

  • Massive Oil Slick Reaches Louisiana Gulf Coast

    VENICE, LA - MAY 02: Oil spill workers head out to their boats as they prepare to help with the cleanup of the massive oil spill created in the aftermath of the April 20 explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil rig May 2, 2010 in Venice, Louisiana. High winds and rough water have slowed the cleanup effort. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

  • A man cleans a beach May 4, 2010 in Bilo

    A man cleans a beach May 4, 2010 in Biloxi, Mississippi, as the gulf coast is still being threatened by the oil spill from the BP Deepwater Horizon platform disaster. AFP PHOTO/Stan Honda (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • U.S. President Barack Obama picks up balls of tar while touring the beach May 28, 2010 in Port Fourchon, Louisiana. The oil spill resulting from the Deepwater Horizon disaster now officially ranks as the worst in U.S. history. (Win McNamee, Getty Images)

  • Hermit crabs struggle to cross a patch of oil from the the Deepwater Horizon spill on a barrier island near East Grand Terre Island, La, Sunday, June 6, 2010. (Charlie Riedel, AP)

  • Workers put the finishing touches on the

    Workers put the finishing touches on the Pollution Control Dome at the Martin Terminal worksite in Port Fourchon, as BP rushes to cap the source of the oil slick from the BP Deepwater Horizon platform disaster in Louisiana, on May 4, 2010. BP delayed until May 5 the deployment of a giant 'dome' to try to contain the main leak spewing crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. The British energy giant now plans to load the 98-ton structure onto a boat at 'noon tomorrow' before shipping it out to the leak site. The dome, which is to be guided onto the largest of three oil leaks by remote-controlled submarines a mile down on the seabed, should be 'operational within six days,' Suttles said. Two weeks after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, the full impact of the disaster is being realized as a massive slick looms off the US Gulf coast, threatening to wipe out the livelihoods of shoreline communities. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A dead fish is seen on the beach May 5,

    A dead fish is seen on the beach May 5, 2010 in Pass Christian, Mississippi as the gulf coast is still threatened by the oil spill from the BP Deepwater Horizon platform disaster. Emergency crews rushed to protect fragile shorelines and islands as the Gulf of Mexico oil slick expanded, prompting a mobilization of more national guard troops and alerts as far as the Florida Keys. With oil still gushing Wednesday from the ruptured offshore well, volunteers and others descended on the region to help stave off a looming environmental crisis from the huge oil patch. AFP PHOTO/Stan Honda (Photo credit should read STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Seagulls and other birds fly past oil booms that were placed in preparation of the looming oil spill from last week's collapse and spill of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, Saturday, May 1, 2010, along the North Shore south of Venice, Louisiana. Wildlife in the region is vulnerable to the looming oil spill from last week's collapse and spill of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. (Eric Gay, AP)

  • Bayou Candlelight Vigil Marks 100 Days Since BP Oil Spill

    GRAND ISLE, LA - JULY 29: Local residents gather near an oil processing area on the beach to commemorate 100 days of the BP oil spill on July 29, 2010 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Eleven lives were lost and three to five million barrels of oil have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico since the BP Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, 2010. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

  • Eric Melerine sheds tears as he talks about possibly losing his fishing business, that has been in the family for genertions, if he can't continue to work because of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on May 1, 2010 in Delacroix, Louisiana. As oil-polluted waters approach the Louisiana coast, fishermen don't want to take chances selling possibly contaminated crabs so they are pulling their traps and dumping their catches. Oil is still leaking out of the Deepwater Horizon wellhead at a estimated rate of 1,000-5,000 barrels a day. (Joe Raedle, Getty Images)

  • Massive Oil Spill's Damage To Gulf Environment And Economy Increases

    WAVELAND, MS - JULY 09: An oil coated containment boom is seen close to the shore after it was moved out of place during the high winds and waves in the past days which brought oil ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico July 9, 2010 in Waveland, Mississippi. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Massive Oil Spill's Damage To Gulf Environment And Economy Increases

    WAVELAND, MS - JULY 09: A worker uses a shovel to pick up oily globs that washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico July 9, 2010 in Waveland, Mississippi. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • One of the New harbor Islands is protected by two oil booms against the oil slick that has passsed inside of the protective barrier formed by the Chandeleur Islands, as cleanup operations continue for the BP Deepwater Horizon platform disaster off Louisiana, on May 10, 2010. Days after failing to contain the Gulf of Mexico oil spill with a giant dome, BP said it will make a second attempt this week using a smaller version dubbed the "top hat." A four-story, 100-ton box was lowered Friday to the seabed to try to capture most of the oil and allow it to be funneled up to a ship on the surface, but it was rendered useless on Sunday when ice crystals formed in its domed roof. BP experts believe the smaller "top hat" containment box would not suffer the same problem as it would not hold so much freezing cold seawater, and they are preparing to drop it into the inky depths to carry out a similar fix to what is unfolding as one the worst oil spills in US history. (Mark Ralston, AFP / Getty Images)

  • Gulf Coast Battles Continued Spread Of Oil In Its Waters And Coastline

    GULFPORT, MS - JULY 1: Thick oil is seen washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on July 1, 2010 in Gulfport, Mississippi. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Gulf Coast Battles Continued Spread Of Oil In Its Waters And Coastline

    ORANGE BEACH, AL - JUNE 27: Workers place absorbent material on to the beach as oil residue washes ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on June 27, 2010 in Orange Beach, Alabama. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Massive Oil Spill's Damage To Gulf Environment And Economy Increases

    WAVELAND, MS- JULY 09: Workers clean up oily globs that washed ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico July 9, 2010 in Waveland, Mississippi. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Gulf Coast Battles Continued Spread Of Oil In Its Waters And Coastline

    ORANGE BEACH, AL- JUNE 27: Pete Duchock holds his daughter, Maddie Duchock, as they stand near oil residue that has stained the beach after washing ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on June 27, 2010 in Orange Beach, Alabama. Pete Duchock said his daughter cried after seeing the oil washing ashore when they arrived for their vacation. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • Gulf Coast Battles Continued Spread Of Oil In Its Waters And Coastline

    ORANGE BEACH, AL - JUNE 26: A beach goer walks on the beach where oil is seen in the water as it washes ashore from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on June 26, 2010 in Orange Beach, Alabama. Millions of gallons of oil have spilled into the Gulf since the April 20 explosion on the drilling platform. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • BP CEO Tony Hayward Testifies Before House Hearing On Oil Spill

    WASHINGTON - JUNE 17: BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward is sworn in before the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee for a hearing on the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill June 17, 2010 in Washington, DC. BP agreed yesterday to place $20 billion into an escrow account managed by a third party to pay out claims resulting from the oil spill and also said it will not pay out additional dividends to shareholders for the remainder of the year. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

  • Congress Holds Hearings On BP Oil Spill

    WASHINGTON - JUNE 17: A protester is escorted from the hearing room after disrupting the hearing of BP Chief Executive Tony Hayward (R) on the Gulf Coast oil spill on Capitol Hill June 17, 2010 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • Members of AnimaNaturalis with their bod

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  • Bayou Candlelight Vigil Marks 100 Days Since BP Oil Spill

    GRAND ISLE, LA - JULY 29: Cacinda Voisin (C) holds a balloon to comemorate the eleven lives lost and 100 days of the BP oil spill on July 29, 2010 in Grand Isle, Louisiana. Three to five million barrels of oil have spilled into the Gulf of Mexico since the BP Deepwater Horizon exploded on April 20, 2010. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

  • Crosses with descriptions of fish, wildl

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  • A support ship related to the collection

    A support ship related to the collection of oil from over the site of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil well transitions through a sheen of oil as workers try to stem the flow of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, June 12, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Thick oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon

    Thick oil from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill floats on the surface of the water and coats the marsh wetlands in Bay Jimmy near Port Sulphur, Louisiana, June 11, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Oil covered brown pelicans found off the

    Oil covered brown pelicans found off the Louisiana coast and affected by the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico wait in a holding pen for cleaning at the Fort Jackson Oiled Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Buras, Louisiana, June 11, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • The glove-covered hands of Dan Howells,

    The glove-covered hands of Dan Howells, deputy campaign director with Greenpeace, are coated with a layer of oil after he dipped them in oil floating on the surface in the Gulf of Mexico following the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill near Grand Isle, Louisiana, June 10, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

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