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Tackling oil rig disaster 'number one priority' - Obama

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Mike O'Berry, US Coast Guard: "We'll search until all likelihood of success has passed"

US President Barack Obama has said that dealing with Tuesday's oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is a "number one priority".

The government was providing "all assistance needed" in the rescue effort off Louisiana, and in mitigating any environmental impact, he said.

The Deepwater Horizon sank after a blast, leaving 11 workers missing.

There are fears of a major spill, with the coastguards saying the rig may be leaking 8,000 barrels of oil per day.

'Assumed dead'

The rig was carrying out exploratory drilling 84km (52 miles) south-east of the Louisiana port of Venice when the blast occurred.

Seventeen workers were injured and more than 100 were evacuated.

The rig had been burning for 36 hours when it sank on Thursday in 5,000 ft (1,500m) of water, despite efforts to control the flames.

Map of the area

There has been no sign of the 11 missing workers, despite rescue efforts by patrol boats and an aerial search.

Adrian Rose, from Transocean, which owns the rig, said those unaccounted for may have been close to the blast and unable to escape.

Carolyn Kemp, whose 27-year old grandson is missing, said that families had been told that it was unlikely any more had survived.

"They're assuming all those men who were on the platform are dead," Ms Kemp told Associated Press. "That's the last we've heard."

Leak fears

Rescue crews had covered the expanse of the rig 12 times by air and five times by boat before it sank.

Seventeen of the 126 workers were evacuated by air and sea for treatment on Wednesday.

DEEPWATER HORIZON
Deepwater Horizon oil rig on fire off Louisiana on 21 April 2010
Designated a semi-submersible drilling unit
Built in 2001 by South Korea's Hyundai Heavy Industries Shipyard
Size: 396ft (120m) long by 256ft (78m) wide
Designed to operate in water depths of up to 8,000ft

Those injured had suffered burns, smoke inhalation and broken bones. Four were critically injured.

Another 100 were later taken by boat to Port Fourchon where they were checked by doctors. They were then taken to a hotel in New Orleans to be reunited with their families.

Meanwhile, there are worries that the now submerged rig is leaking large volumes of oil into the Gulf.

Before the explosion, the rig carried 2.6m litres of diesel fuel and was pumping 8,000 barrels (1.27m litres) of crude oil a day - a volume which may still be leaking from the well into the Gulf of Mexico.

Rear Adm Mary Landry said crews saw an area measuring one mile by five miles (1.5km by 8km) of what appeared to be oil on the surface of the water.

Officials say the environmental damage would be worst if any spill reached the Louisiana shore, 50 miles away.

An operation was being mounted to contain and clean-up the spill, including skimmers, booms to contain the oil and aeroplanes to drop dispersants on it.

A remote-controlled submarine has been deployed to find the exact location of the sunken rig and the condition of the well.

Deepwater Horizon was drilling for BP on part of the Mississippi Canyon Block 252 known as the Macondo prospect, in 1,500m (5,000ft) of water.

Built in 2001 by South Korea's Hyundai, the semi-submersible rig is 120m (396ft) long and 78m (256ft) wide, according to Transocean.

It said there had been no signs of trouble before the explosion and crews had been doing routine work.

The dangers of working on an oil rig have declined in recent decades, but the job can still be risky.

Since 2001, there have been 858 fires and explosions in the Gulf, according to the federal Minerals Management Service.



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Obama eases ban on oil drilling
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