One worker killed, 30 missing after Azeri oil rig fire: government

BAKU (Reuters) - At least one worker was killed and 30 others were missing on Saturday after an Azeri oil platform caught fire during high winds in the Caspian Sea on Friday, state energy company SOCAR said.

As hopes of finding survivors faded, SOCAR said a severe storm was hampering rescue efforts at its platform in the Guneshli oil field.

“One body was found and a search-and-rescue operation for 30 missing workers is under way,” it said in a statement, adding that 32 workers had been safely evacuated.

Earlier on Saturday, the head of Azerbaijan’s Oil Workers’ Rights Protection Committee, Mirvari Gakhramanly, told Reuters 32 workers had died and 42 had been rescued overnight.

The fire started after the storm damaged a natural gas pipeline, causing the platform’s partial collapse.

Oil production on 28 oil wells linked to the facility was suspended and all oil and gas pipelines, which link the platform with the land, were blocked as a safety precaution, SOCAR added in the joint statement with the emergency ministry and the country’s chief prosecutor.

“The fire in the gas pipeline has not been completely extinguished and it has not been ruled out that it could spread to oil and gas wells near the platform,” it said.

Slideshow ( 2 images )

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev signed a decree to create a special commission to deal with the accident and control the rescue operation. A criminal case was opened to investigate the incident.

About 60 percent of SOCAR’s oil production passes through the platform where the fire broke out, meaning the state company’s output will be temporarily hit.

The bulk of Azerbaijan’s oil is produced elsewhere, however, including on fields operated by British oil major BP.

BP Azerbaijan was not available for comment on Saturday on whether adverse weather in the Caspian or the fire on SOCAR’s platform had affected its production.

In a separate incident, SOCAR said on Friday that three workers were missing from another of its offshore oil platforms in the Caspian after an accident during the storm. The workers were still missing as of Saturday.

Fourteen workers were killed in accidents on SOCAR’s oil and gas platforms in 2014.

Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Helen Popper