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9 Lost as Gulf Oil Rig Upsets in Face of Storm

From Associated Press

An oil rig capsized today as it headed shoreward to escape an advancing storm in the Gulf of Mexico, and as many as nine workers were feared trapped inside, the Coast Guard said.

Four of the 13 workers believed to have been aboard were plucked from the water by fishermen and a Coast Guard helicopter, said Chief Petty Officer Michael Robling. The Coast Guard said two others were picked up, but later said it could not confirm that.

Petty Officer Steve Guy said some workers “may be trapped inside the rig below the surface of the water.”

The rig, a self-propelled vessel with legs that can extend to the sea floor, is of a type in which the crew quarters can be sealed, said Lt. Steve Hardy. It is not known if the missing workers were in a sealed section, he said.

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“They usually have watertight doors which should have been secured if the vessel was underway,” Hardy said.

Air trapped inside would be the only oxygen for any survivors, Hardy said. He said he could not estimate how long the air supply would last.

Rescue efforts were hampered by 10-foot seas, 35 m.p.h. wind and heavy rain from the fringes of Tropical Storm Chantal. The Coast Guard flew divers to the rig, and helicopters and a patrol boat were dispatched.

The vessel, leased to Chevron Oil Corp., had been ordered toward land because of the storm, said spokesman Jonathan Lifa.

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The rig was in about 25 feet of water 25 miles off Morgan City. The accident was reported about 5:20 a.m.

“We have no idea how it capsized. The workers on the rig are suspected to have been asleep” when the rig fell over, Guy said.

Seas were about 3 feet when the order came to move, but the weather status at the time is not known, Lifa said.

Hardy said that the Coast Guard recently began inspections of such vessels because of a “significant casualty rate” from accidents. He said the rig’s owners had met today’s deadline for applying for an inspection.

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Petty Officer Rich Muller said the rig belonged to Lafayette Lift Boat and was managed by Avis Boug Co. of Folsom.

Lafayette has no listing, and a woman who answered the phone at Avis Boug said officials were on their way to the scene and unavailable to comment.


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