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The BBC's Tom Gibb
"Salvage experts are working around the clock"
 real 56k

Monday, 19 March, 2001, 06:52 GMT
Bad weather hampers rig rescue
Rescue crews work near the damaged rig
Three blasts rocked the rig killing 10 workers aboard
The world's largest oil rig stopped sinking, but bad weather could hamper efforts to salvage the platform, the Brazilian owners said on Sunday.


We are not out of danger and the situation continues to be critical

General manager of Petrobras operations
The 40-storey structure was stable after sinking 4m (13 feet) since a series of explosions damaged one of the support columns on Thursday, killing at least 10 workers.

"We are not out of danger and the situation continues to be critical but we are more optimistic now that it is stable," said Carlos Eduardo Bellot, general operations manager for owners Petrobras.

The Brazilian state oil company stepped its efforts to salvage the $350m rig, flying in US and Dutch experts as well as special equipment from Europe.

Engineers have been forcing compressed air and nitrogen into the damaged column and pumping out water in order to save the platform, which has up to 1.5m litres of oil on board.

Petrobras' head of engineering, Claudio Nunes, said 4,000 tonnes of water would have to be displaced to right the rig.

Cause undetermined

Nearly 350 engineers and divers are working around the clock to right the platform, while ships remain nearby to contain any possible oil spill.


They have been able to reduce the list of the rig from 30 to 24 degrees.

Only five workers at a time are allowed aboard the giant rig and support ships have been ordered to remain 500 metres (555 yards) away.

Petrobras said it was still trying to determine the cause of the explosions, which local media reports say was caused by a gas leak.

'No leaks'

Only one body has been recovered from the rig and it is presumed the others are in a chamber that is under water.

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
In Macae, the gateway to the off-shore Campos Basin oil field, relatives are still awaiting the official word on the missing men.

''I'm only leaving Macae when we have the body,'' said Vanuzia de Souza Oscar, whose husband died in the disaster.

Petrobras said no oil has so far leaked from the damaged structure, which is 120km (75 miles) off the Brazilian coast.

The oil company has been struggling to rebuild its reputation after two major oil spills and accidents which killed 81 workers.

The P-36 rig was meant to be a model of Petrobras' deepwater production expertise.

It began operations last year and was pumping 80,000 barrels of oil per day, less than half its projected capacity and about 5% of Brazil's total output.

Petrobras said the shortfall in oil output expected would cost Brazil some $50m a month in oil imports.

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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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