UPDATE 1-Coast Guard suspends search for two Gulf oil rig workers

Sun Nov 18, 2012 7:54am IST

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Nov 17 (Reuters) - The U.S. Coast Guard halted its search on Saturday for two workers still missing a day after a fire erupted on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana.

Three helicopter crews, a Coast Guard cutter and a fixed-wing aircraft crew spent the day searching a 1,400 square-mile (3,625 square km) area around the platform, operated by Houston-based Black Elk Energy, the Coast Guard said in a statement.

The search was suspended at about 5:25 p.m. Central time, a Coast Guard spokeswoman said.

The blaze was touched off on Friday when workers were welding a pipe on a deck of the platform in shallow waters. Twenty-two people were on board the rig when the fire broke out and unleashed a black plume of smoke. Eleven workers were evacuated and nine others were taken by helicopter to hospitals.

Four workers airlifted to Louisiana's West Jefferson Medical Center suffered second- and third-degree burns to large parts of their bodies, said Taslin Alfonzo, a hospital spokeswoman.

The incident occurred a day after oil giant BP agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil spill that killed 11 workers and spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil.

The Black Elk-operated rig was off-line at the time of the fire and there was little risk of a major oil spill, officials said.

The platform sits in 56 feet (17 meters) of water some 17 miles (27 km) south of Grand Isle, Louisiana and production had been shut down since mid-August, Black Elk said.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which enforces offshore drilling regulations, is investigating the fire.

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