12 missing after Gulf of Mexico oil rig blast: coast guard

21st April 2010, Comments 0 comments

The US Coast Guard launched a huge air and sea rescue operation Wednesday for 12 oil workers missing in the Gulf oF Mexico after an explosion on a rig off the Louisiana coast.

Seven people were critically injured when the blast ripped through the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible rig around 10:00 pm Tuesday (0300 GMT Wednesday), sending balls of flame shooting into the night sky.

While they were airlifted by helicopter to a naval air station near New Orleans and then taken to hospital, rescuers scrambled to evacuate the rest of the 126 personnel from the rig, operated by Swiss-incorporated contractor Transocean.

A local official quoted by The Times-Picayune newspaper said 11 missing workers on the platform were later found safe, but coast guard spokesman Senior Chief Petty Officer Mike O'Berry assured AFP: "There are still 12 missing."

The platform, located some 52 miles (84 kilometers) southeast of Venice on the Louisiana coast, was listing at about 70 degrees and still burning almost a day after the blast.

While three other vessels tried to douse the flames and ferried shocked workers, some with minor injuries, to shore, the coast guard searched the waters for signs of life using six cutters, one plane and four helicopters.

"All of our units are doing search and rescue," coast guard spokeswoman Katherine McNamarra told AFP.

Survivors were found on the rig and in the waters surrounding it, some of them clinging to life rafts. A total of 15 workers were being treated in local Louisiana hospitals.

The Coast Guard said a joint investigation would be conducted by them, the US Interior Department's Minerals Management Service and BP, to whom the rig was under contract.

Environmental teams were also to assess the damage after all workers had been accounted for and the fire extinguished.

According to Transocean, the Deepwater Horizon platform is 396 feet (121 meters) long and 256 feet wide. It can accommodate a crew of up to 130.

Built by Hyundai Heavy Industries in South Korea in 2001, the rig can drill up to 30,000 feet deep and operate "in harsh environments and water depths up to 8,000 feet," Transocean said.

The company said it had dispatched emergency and family response teams to help the US Coast Guard and BP care for traumatized workers and search for those still missing.

With headquarters in Houston, Texas, Transocean is the world's largest offshore drilling contractor, with a fleet of 140 mobile offshore drilling units, in addition to three ultra-deepwater units under construction.

© 2010 AFP

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