Pinoys not behind US oil rig blast: envoy

Posted at 11/30/12 1:17 AM

Edrian Tajonera, the 11-year-old son of Avelino Tajonera who was among 3 Filipinos who died in the Gulf of Mexico oil rig blast, delivers his eulogy for his late father in necrological rites held Wednesday in Louisiana. Photo by Consul Elmer Cato, Philippine Embassy in the US

Filipinos helped rebuild Louisiana's offshore oil industry

MANILA, Philippines - Filipinos were not responsible for an oil platform explosion and fire that killed 3 of the workers and left 3 others seriously injured just off the coast of Louisiana, Philippine Ambassador to the US Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia said.

During the necrological services for 2 of the fatalities, Ellroy Corporal and Avelino Tajonera, in Cut Off, Louisiana on Wednesday, Cuisia expressed dismay over allegations that the Filipino workers may caused the accident.

"Some reports make it appear that these veteran offshore workers were so incompetent that they triggered the fire by using a torch when they were not supposed to," he said.

"Still another report said the accident was the result of miscommunication as if Filipino offshore workers do not understand English," he added.

Cuisia, however, said the 9 Filipinos who were on the oil platform on November 16 would not have been there if they did not pass strict and thorough training, safety, and language requirements in the US and the Philippines.

"These men also have extensive experience in the oil and gas industry abroad and with such giants as Shell, Chevron and British Petroleum," he said.

"I will be doing Ellroy and Avelino and the other injured Filipinos a great injustice if I do not speak out and express my disappointment and dismay over unfair insinuations in media that our workers are to be blamed for the accident," he added.

Cuisia highlighted the crucial role that Filipino offshore workers played in rebuilding oil rigs that were either damaged or destroyed during Hurricane Katrina's sweep across Louisiana in 2005.

"Filipinos who were brought in to address a manpower shortage clocked in more than 500,000 manhours to help restore Louisiana's oil production levels," he revealed.

40,000 skilled Filipino offshore workers worldwide

He said around 40,000 skilled Filipino offshore workers are currently deployed and are in high demand in Asia, Europe, Australia, the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas.

Mark Pregeant, president and chief executive officer of Grand Isle Shipyard Inc. that deployed the workers, supported Cuisia's stand.

“Those gentlemen did not cut the wrong line. These gentlemen did not cut that piece of pipe with a torch,” he said in a statement, in response to claims the fire was caused by workers who used a wrong torch.

"We are gathered here today not only mourn the passing of Ellroy and Avelino but also to pay tribute to these two men and all the other Filipinos serving in offshore oil platforms not only in the Gulf of Mexico but also across the globe," Cuisia said.

"Sa mga naiwanan nina Ellroy at Avelino, makakaasa po kayo na nandidito kami at handang tumulong sa inyo kung kinakailangan. Makakaasa din kayo na isasama namin sila sa aming mga panalangin," he assured the victims' families.

Danao City native Jerome Malagapo, whose body was found Monday about 20 miles from the ill-fated oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico that was hit by an explosion and fire on November 16. Three Filipinos were killed while 3 others were seriously wounded in the incident. The cause of the deadly explosion and fire remains undetermined. Photo courtesy of Philippine Embassy in the US

The Philippine envoy later announced that  US authorities have positively identified the body recovered on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) as that of another missing Filipino worker.

"We are deeply saddened to learn that we lost our kababayan, Jerome Malagapo," Cuisia said in a statement after he was informed by the Coroner's Office of Lafourche Parish that the remains belonged to the 28-year-old fitter from Danao City, Cebu.

Malagapo's body was identified upon evaluation of dental evidence. The embassy said the body was spotted near an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, 20 miles from the blast site.