Worlds Largest Rig Still Afloat

Tuesday, March 20, 2001
Crews managed to prevent the world's largest offshore oil rig from sinking farther into the sea on Monday, four days after explosions crippled its structure and killed 10, its Brazilian owners said. They said the 40-story platform belonging to Brazil's state oil giant Petrobras had stabilized by Monday evening after workers pumped enough water out of the submerged compartments. They are injecting nitrogen and compressed air in a bid to remove nearly 3,000 tons of water weighing down the rig.

Even so, the platform was listing more than ever, at a 27-degree angle. In the last 24 hours it has sunk 1.3 feet (40 cm). The platform has sunk almost 15 feet (4.6 m) since the blasts. "Conditions at sea are making the work difficult but they are not preventing the operation from continuing altogether," Petrobras said in a statement on Monday evening. Earlier on Monday Petrobras general manager Carlos Eduardo Bellot for the Campos Basin said that the platform had resumed sliding into the sea overnight. If the rig were to sink, up to 395,000 gallons of crude and diesel in underwater pipelines and onboard tanks could be dumped into the ocean.

"For the moment there is no environmental question that is worrying us," said Carlos Henrique Mendes of Brazil's environmental authority Ibama. Three blasts ripped through the rig early last Thursday, killing 10 and seriously injuring another member of the 175-person crew aboard the rig anchored in Brazil's oil-rich Campos Basin north of Rio de Janeiro. Workers' unions said on Monday they were stepping up protests to demand more safety, saying they will keep only skeleton crews on the 50 platforms in the Campos Basin, which supplies about 50 percent of Brazil's oil.

"The protest is for life, for health, safety and in the memory of our lost colleagues," said Fernando de Carvalho, a regional director for the United Oil Workers Federation. Unions are considering staggered nationwide work stoppages. Petrobras flew in U.S. and Dutch experts and 50 tons of European equipment to try to keep the deep-sea platform afloat and prevent an oil spill over the weekend. Officials said there was a good chance of keeping the huge structure afloat. Nearly 350 engineers, divers and navy personnel are working to save the rig and expect to take advantage of calmer seas.

Rough seas with five-foot waves had complicated the operation but officials said late on Monday the weather was improving. The P-36 rig, which cost $350 million and is insured for $500 million, is 78 miles (125 km) off Macae, the gateway to the Campos Basin. Petrobras President Henri Philippe Reichstul said the recovery of the bodies was the main priority. But officials said it was impossible to reach the chambers where the bodies are trapped, at least for the next 48 hours. - (Reuters)

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