Coast Guard: Body found near burned Gulf oil rig

Associated Press Modified: November 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm •  Published: November 18, 2012
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Divers hired by the owner of an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico that caught fire recovered a body in the waters near the site Saturday evening, according to the U.S. Coast Guard and the rig's owner.

Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Vega said late Saturday that the remains of the unidentified person were found by divers hired by Houston-based Black Elk Energy, who were inspecting the platform. Vega said the Coast Guard would be turning over the remains to local authorities.

John Hoffman, the president and CEO of Black Elk Energy, wrote in an email late Saturday that the body is apparently that of one of two crew members missing since an explosion and fire on the oil platform Friday morning. Hoffman said the body was found by a contract dive vessel at 5:25 p.m. CST.

"Divers will continue to search for the second missing worker," Hoffman wrote. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families."

Hoffman said the body was found close to the leg of the platform, near where the explosion occurred, in about 30 feet of water. He said the missing men were employees of oilfield contractor Grand Isle Shipyard.

"We have notified next of kin of all individuals involved, but in respect for their families and their privacy, we will not be releasing their names," GIS CEO Mark Pregeant said in a statement, according to WWL-TV in New Orleans.

The news came shortly after the Coast Guard suspended a 32-hour-long search for the two missing workers that covered 1,400 square miles (3626 sq. kilometers) near the oil platform, located about 20 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Grand Isle, La.

"We have saturated the search area several times — the 1400-square-foot area," Vega said. "We saw no signs of life. We have suspended the search... pending further development. If we receive any credible information that there are signs of life, we can resume the search at any time."

Four other workers who were severely burned remained at Baton Rouge General Medical Center on Saturday night.

Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash said the Guard's search was ended early Saturday evening. Helicopters and a fixed-wing aircraft had been searching by air, while cutters and boat crews searched the sea.

The blaze erupted Friday morning while workers were using a torch to cut an oil line on the platform, authorities said.

Pregeant stressed in his statement that the cause of the fire and explosion is unknown, and said "initial reports that a welding torch was being used at the time of the incident or that an incorrect line was cut are completely inaccurate."

Four workers were severely burned, though Black Elk Energy spokeswoman Leslie Hoffman said their burns were not as extensive as initially feared.

Officials at Baton Rouge General Medical Center said Saturday that two men remained in critical condition, while two men remained in serious condition. The four, being treated in a burn unit, are also employees of Grand Isle Shipyard and are from the Philippines. The hospital said it and Grand Isle Shipyard are trying to reach the men's families in the Philippines.

Grand Isle Shipyard employed 14 of the 22 workers on the platform at the time of the explosion, WWL-TV reported. A man who answered the phone at the company's Galliano, La., office on Saturday said no one was available to comment.

Separate from the accident, Grand Isle Shipyard is facing a lawsuit by a group of former workers from the Philippines who claim they were confined to cramped living quarters and forced to work long hours for substandard pay. The lawsuit was filed in late 2011 in a Louisiana federal court and is pending. Lawyers for the company have said the workers' claims are false and should be dismissed.

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