Oil Spill From Sunken Brazil Rig Contained So Far

News and Press Release
Originally published
By Andrei Khalip

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (Reuters) - A day after the world's biggest oil rig sank deep to the ocean floor off Brazil's coast spewing oil and fuel, the offshore platform's owners said the spill was being contained.

The 40-story rig was damaged by a series of blasts last Thursday that killed 10 crew and sank on Tuesday after five days of expensive, risky, but fruitless salvage works.

Only one body has been recovered and the platform, which lies at the depth of 0.84 miles, is now also a grave for nine workers, to the anger of their relatives.

State oil company Petrobras (news - web sites) that owns the sunken rig said they had cleaned up most of the spill so far.

Brazil's oil workers' unions said they were calling a nationwide 24-hour strike at Petrobras facilities on Thursday to demand more safety and adequate training for all workers.

Head of Petrobras' environment department, Irani Varella, told Reuters the company had dispersed with chemicals or collected with equipment all but 3,200 gallons of 81,600 gallons of diesel and crude that had been detected on the surface.

Officials said more oil could have leaked but the remaining fuel and light oil could have already evaporated or been broken up by chemicals. The platform had 316,000 gallons of diesel and 79,000 gallons of oil.

''There my be more oil coming up, but smaller amounts. We have all means to contain the spill anyway and the environmental damage is relatively small,'' said Varella, adding that Brazil's picturesque beaches would not be affected.

The government's Ibama environmental body said that in the morning the oil covered an area of about 5 square miles or roughly the size of a city district, and that officials were flying over the area right now to see whether the slick had been really reduced.

Petrobras is likely to face a heavy multi-million dollar fine for the latest in a series of oil spills.

Families Angry

Another helicopter took the relatives of the dead workers to the site of the tragedy, 78 miles off the coast of Macae city -- the rig's land base -- to pay their last homage.

Petrobras officials in Macae denied some local media reports that the relatives had been barred from taking flowers with them to throw into the sea. A memorial service has been planned for Thursday.

The sinking of the rig brought tears and anger from those who had held on to a slim hope that they would be able to bury nine missing loved ones listed as dead. Varella admitted that Petrobras so far had no technology to salvage the bodies.

An angry Ivani Couto railed against Petrobras over the death of her husband: ''I'm going to fight to the end,'' she shouted. ''While I can still stand I will keep fighting, and If I can't my sons will fight for me.''

In a bizarre twist, a judge on Tuesday ruled Petrobras should recover the body of Charles Roberto Oscar for his wife Vanusia within 24 hours or pay a fine of 1,000 times the minimum wage for every day that it failed to do so.

Petrobras has lost some 6 percent of its output this year with the demise of the platform, but officials said output of the rapidly-growing company would still rise, though less than initially planned.

They said the rig accident would deprive Petrobras of some $450 million dollars in profits this year. Oil experts say the sinking would hardly rattle the flagship of Brazilian (news - web sites) industry, which netted around $5 billion in 2000.

They expect Petrobras to install a temporary, older rig on the Roncador field and order a new mammoth platform which should be ready in about two years' time.

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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