Fire hits semi in Gulf of Mexico; several missing

Fire on a semisubmersible rig in the Gulf of Mexico required an emergency search for missing crew members.

This story was updated on Apr. 21 with further details after a press conference about the incident.

By OGJ editors
HOUSTON, Apr. 21
-- Fire on a semisubmersible rig in the Gulf of Mexico required an emergency search for missing crew members.

The US Coast Guard said it received a report of an explosion and fire on the Transocean Ltd. Deepwater Horizon rig at about 10 p.m. CDT Apr. 20. The semi was drilling for BP Exploration & Production Inc. on Mississippi Canyon Block 252 about 41 miles off Louisiana.

Transocean reported the crew size at 126.

On Apr. 21, USCG said that most of the crew had been removed from the rig but that 10-11 workers were missing. The fire was still burning, it said.

USCG said several workers received injuries it described as critical.

It sent five rescue helicopters and five cutters to the scene.

In the afternoon on Apr. 21, authorities confirmed that 11 workers remained missing and 17 people had been injured of which three people were listed in critical condition.

Adrian Rose, a spokesman for Transocean, said the crew would not have had much warning before having to evacuate the rig. An exploration well had been drilled to total depth of more than 18,000 ft, he said.

Crews were running casing and cementing operations were being done when the accident happened. There was no indication of any problems before the accident, Rose said.

The accident's cause remains undetermined. The fire continued to burn, and rescue workers were trying to get a remotely operated vehicle upon the rig to “hot stab into the blowout preventer” and stem the source of the fire, Rose said.

“Pressure built up in the marine riser,” Rose said. “We have no facts to say this is a blowout,” but initial reports indicate that is likely, he told reporters during a news conference from New Orleans.

David Rainey, BP vice-president of Gulf of Mexico operations, said he had received mixed reports that the rig is listing at 3-10º, and he said it’s impossible to say yet whether the rig is a complete loss.

USCG officials said there was a light sheen of oil near the rig but that most of the hydrocarbons were burning. USCG personnel established a safety zone in the area. Mariners were not being allowed into the zone without USCG approval.

Additionally, airspace restrictions had been issued for a 5-nautical mile radius around the Deepwater Horizon and 4,000 ft elevation.

According to US Minerals Management Service records, BP was drilling the well in 4,992 ft of water near Rigel gas field.

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