US Coast Guard suspends search for oil rig workers

Posted at 11/18/12 2:02 PM

The US Coast Guard halted its search on Saturday for two workers still missing a day after a fire erupted on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.

Three helicopter crews, a Coast Guard cutter and a fixed-wing aircraft crew spent the day searching a 3,625-square-km area around the platform, operated by Houston-based Black Elk Energy, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

The search was suspended at about 5:25 p.m. Central time, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said.

The blaze was touched off on Friday when workers were welding a pipe on a deck of the platform in shallow waters. Twenty-two people were on board the rig when the fire broke out and unleashed a black plume of smoke. Eleven workers were evacuated and nine others were taken by helicopter to hospitals.

Four workers airlifted to Louisiana's West Jefferson Medical Center suffered second- and third-degree burns to large parts of their bodies, said Taslin Alfonzo, a hospital spokeswoman.

The incident occurred a day after oil giant BP agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil spill that killed 11 workers and spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil.

The Black Elk-operated rig was off-line at the time of the fire and there was little risk of a major oil spill, officials said.

The platform sits in 56 feet of water some 17 miles south of Grand Isle, Louisiana and production had been shut down since mid-August, Black Elk said.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which enforces offshore drilling regulations, is investigating the fire.