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The BBC's Tom Gibb
"The real danger is that it could damage the well on the seabed"
 real 56k

Corinne Podger, BBC science staff
"The rig industry's history has been peppered with accidents"
 real 28k

Ray Collett, The Financial Times
"The president of Petrobas...said the situation was very grim"
 real 28k

Saturday, 17 March, 2001, 05:11 GMT
Brazil faces eco-nightmare
Petrobras oil rig
The rig is listing twice as far as the Tower of Pisa
Prospects of saving the world's largest offshore oil rig which is sinking off the Brazilian coast are fading, according to the rig's owners, the state oil company Petrobras.


The company thinks it is very difficult - that there is a remote possibility of finding anyone alive

Petrobras chief executive
If it sinks and damages shutters of underwater wells, it could cause Brazil's worst environmental disaster, according to engineers.

Despite the efforts of salvage engineers, the rig could sink in two to three days, experts say.

Engineers say they are attempting to pump nitrogen into the columns to refloat the rig but they do not know whether they will be successful.

Explosions

One worker was killed and nine others are still missing after a series of explosions on the rig early on Thursday morning.

The president of Brazil's state oil company has said the prospects of finding the missing workers alive are now very remote.


"Petrobras is in mourning," he said.

As tall as a 40-storey skyscraper, the rig has 1.5 million litres of petrol and oil on board, much of which could spill into the sea if the structure collapses.

One of the legs of the Petrobras platform appears to have broken, and the rig is still taking on water, technicians have warned.

Public anger

There is public outrage in Brazil, where state oil company Petrobras has already been tarnished by a series of other accidents.

A trader at the Sao Paulo stock market
A trader watches the board in Sao Paulo's stock market as the real falls following the rig explosions
Petrobras officials said the oil rig was listing at an angle of 24 degrees, or over two times more than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Working around the rig is dangerous - if it sinks it could drag any nearby ships down with it.

"We want to be sure it won't sink suddenly, and that if experts go aboard there is no risk," Irani Varela, the company's director of security, said in a radio interview.

Catastrophe

Petrobras president Henri Philippe Reichstul said that their efforts continue but the platform is sinking more and more.

Petrobras hall of shame
1984: 34 people killed in oil platform explosion and fire
35 oil workers killed since 1998 at Petrobras facilities, say unions
Jan 2000: One million litres of oil from tanker polluted Rio de Janeiro's picture-postcard Guanabara Bay. Fined $28m
July 2000: 4 million litres of crude oil spilled from a broken pipeline into the Iguacu river in southern Brazil. Fined $110m
If the rig does not sink there is virtually no risk of environmental damage, according to Argemio Pertence, director of the Association of Engineers.

"If the rig sinks there is the distinct possibility that some or all of the 21 pipelines could rupture. It could be a catastrophe" he added.

The company said five ships with floating anti-oil barriers were surrounding the P-36 rig to soak up any possible spillage.

The incident is the latest in a series of other accidents. The oil workers' union says that over the last three years 32 people hired or subcontracted by Petrobras have died in a total of 99 accidents.

Unions have started staging protests against poor safety standards at Petrobras, accusing the company of outsourcing work to inexperienced workers to cut costs, thus putting employees at risk.

Petrobras has recently announced heavy investments in safety and measures to protect the environment.

The company says it is losing $2m a day because of the accident.

Oil will now have to be imported to replace the production of the rig, further denting Brazil's already negative balance of payments.

The explosions have had a dramatic effect on the Brazilian currency, the real, which slumped to a two-year low against the dollar.

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See also:

16 Mar 01 | Business
Real crisis in Brazil
16 Mar 01 | Americas
Dangers of oil extraction
16 Mar 01 | Americas
Blasts cripple Brazilian oil rig
17 Feb 01 | Americas
Oil spill clear-up in Brazil
20 Jan 00 | Americas
Brazil oil giant attacked over leak
01 Aug 00 | Americas
Brazil hit by new toxic spill
25 Jan 01 | Americas
Brazil to re-examine Amazon project
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