Explosion on offshore Petrobras oil vessel kills 3 in Brazil

Three dead in explosion on Brazilian floating oil unit run by troubled Petrobras

An explosion on an offshore oil vessel operated by Brazil's troubled energy giant, Petrobras, killed at least three workers Wednesday and left six missing, according to a company statement and union reports.

The explosion took place around midday off the coast of Espirito Santo state, where the oil company, dogged in recent months by a corruption scandal and safety concerns, was running operations on the Cidade de Sao Mateus vessel with the Norwegian company BW Offshore.

There were 74 workers on board at the time of the blast, the state-run Petrobras said. Besides the three who were confirmed dead and the six missing, 10 were evacuated by helicopter to the coastal city of Vitoria for treatment of injuries.

“The accident was controlled immediately through our emergency plan and with all necessary resources,” said a company statement. “Operations there have been stopped.”

The company did not say what had caused the explosion.

Until last year, Petrobras was the most important company in Brazil and the largest company in Latin America by share value. But allegations of a political corruption scheme involving billions of dollars have dragged down the company's value and Brazil's economy in recent months, and CEO Maria das Gracas Silva Foster resigned last week amid the scandal.

In January, an explosion at the Landulpho Alves refinery in Bahia state injured three workers. Last year, the director of Brazil's National Petroleum Agency said that offshore platforms were not always fully inspected.

Before the eruption of the Petrobras scandal, revealed in the so-called Car Wash police investigation, Petrobras was widely regarded as a pioneer in deep offshore drilling technology, well-poised to profit from Brazil's extensive reserves. Analysts believe that Brazil's economic recovery depends in part on restoring international confidence in the company.

The Cidade de Sao Mateus is a floating oil production, storage and offloading unit, producing 2,200 barrels of petroleum a day.

Bevins is a special correspondent.

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