Up to 12 missing after Gulf of Mexico oil rig blast

21st April 2010, Comments 0 comments

A massive search was underway Wednesday for up to 12 workers who went missing in the Gulf of Mexico after an explosion and fire damaged an oil rig and critically injured seven people.

Officials said most of the offshore drilling platform's 126 workers were believed to have escaped safely from the explosion that ripped through the Deepwater Horizon semi-submersible rig around 10:00 pm Thursday (0300 GMT Wednesday).

A plane and helicopters flew overhead while boats searched the waters off the platform, which was tilting and still burning Wednesday morning some 52 miles (84 kilometers) southeast of Venice on the coast of Louisiana state.

"There were seven critically injured and 11 to 12 people remain missing... The rest of the people have been accounted for," said Lieutenant Sue Kerver, spokeswoman for the Eighth Coast Guard District headquartered in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Three workers were met by ambulance at Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans and four others were flown to other hospitals by helicopter, according to the Coast Guard.

"The cause of the explosion and the cause of the fire are under investigation," Kerver added.

The rig was under contract to BP Exploration and Production, Inc. According to its owner, Transocean Ltd., the Deepwater Horizon platform is 396 feet (121 meters) long and 256 feet (78 meters) 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 (9,144 meters) deep and operate "in harsh environments and water depths up to 8,000 feet" (2,438 meters), Transocean said.

Transocean's Emergency and Family Response Teams were working with the US Coast Guard and BP to care for workers who escaped and search for those still missing.

Based in Houston, Texas, Transocean said it 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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