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Hopes ebb for survivors after Azerbaijan oil rig fire


Bakerfield oil platform

Bakerfield oil platform

Hopes in Azerbaijan dimmed Monday for 29 oil workers still missing three days after a storm caused their offshore oil rig to catch fire as the state energy company pressed on with the search.

Azeri state energy company SOCAR whose oil platform in the Caspian Sea caught fire on Friday refused to declare the missing workers dead.

“The fire still continues and the search operation is under way,” SOCAR chief engineer Balamirza Agaragimov told a news conference, adding the rescue teams were using helicopters and vessels of the emergencies ministry.

He said the search had not produced any results as of Monday morning.

But industry experts said there was little hope of finding any more survivors.

“Nearly three days have passed since the day of the tragedy,” Mirvari Gakhramanly, head of a local non-governmental organization that defends the rights of oil workers, told AFP.

“It’s not possible to remain alive in such a weather and cold water. If someone survives it would happen only thanks to a miracle,” she said, blaming authorities for what she described as a bungled rescue operation.

Rescue workers lifted a total of 33 people from the rig, the open water, and a lifeboat that was suspended 10 metres (35 feet) above the stormy waters.

But a second lifeboat fell into the water and has not been recovered. The workers were wearing life vests and some of them were recovered from the sea at a considerable distance from the rig, the company said.

So far, the body of just one worker has been found.

– ‘Many deaths’-
President Ilham Aliyev has said the disaster led to “many deaths”, declaring a day of national mourning on Sunday.

Aliyev’s statement was the closest to an official confirmation that the rest have most likely perished at sea.

In a tacit acknowledgement that the missing workers were unlikely to be found alive, the government of Azerbaijan has asked the four other Caspian nations — Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia, and Turkmenistan — to help with the search of bodies of the missing workers.

The storm 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.

Prosecutors have opened a probe 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.

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.

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