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Azerbaijan mourns as 29 still missing after oil rig fire


fire_06Azerbaijan was on Sunday searching for 29 missing oil workers after a storm caused their offshore oil rig to catch fire, as the president ordered a day of mourning.

Two people have been confirmed dead since the accident on Friday evening, one of whom was found early Sunday, said a joint statement by state energy firm SOCAR and the emergency ministry.

Rescue workers managed to evacuate 33 people from the rig, where they had been hanging in lifeboats 10 metres (35 feet) above the stormy waters.

A source in the administration of President Ilham Aliyev told AFP that Sunday has been designated as a day of national mourning.

“Flags will be at half-mast in Azerbaijan as well as its diplomatic missions in other countries,” he said.

“Entertainment events and television concert programmes have been cancelled,” he added.

The storm had on Friday damaged a gas line on platform number 10 in the deepwater Guneshli section of the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli offshore oil field, causing a fire, SOCAR said in a statement.

Prosecutors on Saturday opened an inquiry into possible “breaches of fire safety regulations”.

The Guneshli deposits were discovered in 1981 in the south Caspian Sea, some 90 kilometres (55 miles) east of the Azeri capital Baku.

The deepwater Guneshli section of the project began oil production in 2008. Platform number 10 is operated solely by SOCAR.

A mainly Muslim country of nine million wedged between Russia and Iran, Azerbaijan is a key partner in projects to deliver Caspian Sea energy reserves to the West through pipelines to Turkey, bypassing Russia.

There have been a number of fatal incidents on offshore oil rigs in recent years.

In 2011, a drilling platform sank in a storm off Russia’s far eastern coast, killing 53 people.

In 2010, an explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and sent millions of barrels of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

The deadliest incident in recent decades occurred in the North Sea in 1988, when the Piper Alpha oil platform operated by the US-based Occidental Petroleum exploded, killing 167 people.

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