Body found in platform fire

by on November 18, 2012 7:19 pm GMT

The body was found hours after the US Coast Guard called off its search on Saturday afternoon.

The body was identified by Louisiana-based Grand Isle Shipyard (GIS), which employed all 22 workers workers aboard the Black Elk Energy-operated platform when it exploded on Friday morning.

Many of the workers were Philippine nationals, including the confirmed fatality, the still-missing worker and the four who were still hospitalised with severe burns on Sunday.

“We regret to announce that the body that was recovered near the accident scene a few hours ago belongs to one of our two missing kababayans,” ambassador Jose Cuisia said in a statement on the Embassy’s website, using the Tagalog word for “countryman”.

“We continue to hope and pray that our other kababayan is still alive and would be recovered soon.”

The four injured workers are being treated at the Baton Rouge General Medical Centre’s burn unit.

The hospital said in a statement posted on its website that two of the victims remain in critical condition and one is in serious condition. The three remain unidentified.

The fourth patient, 50-year-old Wilberto Ilagan, “has demonstrated progress and is in fair condition”, the hospital said, adding that all four “are considered to have major burns”.

Ilagan said in a statement: “To my relatives, to my family, and to my country, I am alive and in good health. I am burned, but my heart and lungs are healthy.”

The Coast Guard said it had suspended its search for the two missing workers early Saturday evening.

The agency said boat and aircraft crews searched a 1400-square-mile area for more than 32 hours in an effort to locate the missing victims.

The body recovered on Saturday night was found as divers working for Houston-based Black Elk were inspecting the structure to assess damage. Black Elk chief executive John Hoffman said divers would continue to search for the second missing crew member.

The structure caught fire with 22 people on board after an explosion Friday morning around 9:00 local time. The fire was extinguished after an hour. Nine people were airlifted to nearby hospitals and 11 others were safely evacuated from the platform.

The facility had been shut in since August and was not producing oil or gas at the time of the fire. Black Elk said there was not a visible sheen in the vicinity

The cause of the blast remains unclear. Early reports said the incident occurred when one worker mistakenly grabbed a blow torch instead of a saw to cut a pipe.

But GIS chief executive Mark Pregeant told local news station WWL TV in a statement that “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”.

GIS is facing a separate lawsuit filed 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 Associated Press reported.

The lawsuit was filed late last year in a Louisiana federal court and is pending. GIS lawyers call the claims false and want them dismissed, AP said.

The federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) is investigating Friday’s explosion and fire.

“BSEE is committed to determining the direct and indirect causes of the explosion and will take appropriate enforcement action,” the agency’s director James Watson said.