Coast Guard searches for two Gulf oil rig workers after fire

Sat Nov 17, 2012 1:32pm EST

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(Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard searched on Saturday for two workers who remain 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 searched a 1,400 square-mile (3,625 square km) area around the platform, which is operated by Houston-based Black Elk Energy, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

The blaze ignited 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.

Since the Black Elk-operated rig was offline at the time of the fire, 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.

(Reporting by Kevin Gray; Editing by Bill Trott; Editing by Bill Trott)

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