Dozens feared dead in offshore oil rig blaze

An image from video footage showing the oil platform on fire in the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev has announced the creation of a government commission to coordinate the handling of the incident.
An image from video footage showing the oil platform on fire in the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev has announced the creation of a government commission to coordinate the handling of the incident.PHOTO: REUTERS

BAKU • The Azerbaijan authporties were searching for 29 missing oil workers after a storm caused their offshore oil rig in the Caspian Sea to catch fire, as the country's president ordered a day of mourning.

A fire had broken out on the rig following a storm on Friday, "leading to many deaths", said a statement on the official website of President Ilham Aliyev yesterday.

Another 32 people had been rescued, state energy firm SOCAR said on its website on Saturday.

However, the rescue operation had been hampered by the violent storm.

The storm damaged a gas line on platform No. 10 in the deepwater Guneshli section of the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field, causing the fire, SOCAR said.

Spectacular footage on TV showed the platform engulfed in flames in the midst of a raging sea.

"Despite bad weather conditions, 32 people could be saved," Mr Aliyev's office said in an earlier statement. " At this time, rescue operations continue."

Azerbaijan's state prosecutor's office said earlier that one person had died on Friday night when the lifeboat he was in with three others was hit by heavy winds.

Staff had taken refuge in lifeboats that had been lowered to 10m above the water, it said in a statement.

Prosecutors have opened an inquiry into possible breaches of fire safety regulations, it added.

Mr Aliyev announced on Saturday the creation of a government commission to coordinate the handling of the incident.

The Guneshli deposits were discovered in 1981 in the south Caspian Sea, some 90km east of the Azerbaijan capital, Baku.

In 2010, an explosion on the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and sent millions of barrels of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2015, with the headline 'Dozens feared dead in offshore oil rig blaze'. Print Edition | Subscribe