BP has announced its agreement with the US government to resolve all federal criminal charges and all claims by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) against the company resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident, oil spill, and response.

BP will pay a total of $4.5bn – said to be the biggest criminal penalty in US history – with payments scheduled over a period of six years.

As part of the resolution, BP has agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges brought by the Department of Justice, which relate to the loss of 11 lives, and offences against the Clean Water Act; the Migratory Bird Treaty Act; and one of obstruction of Congress.

However, the company said it was prepared to vigorously defend itself against remaining civil claims

“All of us at BP deeply regret the tragic loss of life caused by the Deepwater Horizon accident as well as the impact of the spill on the Gulf coast region,” said Bob Dudley, BP’s group chief executive.

“From the outset, we stepped up by responding to the spill, paying legitimate claims and funding restoration efforts in the Gulf. We apologise for our role in the accident, and as today’s resolution with the US government further reflects, we have accepted responsibility for our actions.”

In eliminating the possibility of any further federal criminal charges against the company based on the accident, BP said it had taken another significant step forward in removing legal uncertainty and could now focus more fully on defending itself against all remaining civil claims.

“We believe this resolution is in the best interest of BP and its shareholders,” said Carl-Henric Svanberg, BP’s chairman. “It removes two significant legal risks and allows us to vigorously defend the company against the remaining civil claims.”

BP said it had taken significant steps to further enhance safety and risk management throughout its global operations. It launched an internal investigation immediately after the accident, publicly released the results, and has been implementing all 26 of the investigation’s recommendations.

“We are committed to building a safer, stronger BP,” said Svanberg. “This work did not begin with the Deepwater Horizon accident and will not end with today’s resolution."