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US fears ease over major oil spill from sunken rig

23 April 10 13:28 GMT

The US Coast Guard says that no oil appears to be leaking from a rig that sank off Louisiana on Thursday.

Crews will continue to monitor the rig closely amid concerns over a possible environmental disaster.

BP chief executive Tony Hayward vowed that the company would do everything in its power to contain any spills and limit the environmental impact.

The Coast Guard is continuing its search for 11 missing workers, but hopes for their survival are dimming.

Coast Guard Rear Adm Mary Landry told Associated Press news agency that there was no leak at either the water's surface or the well head at the ocean floor.

A visible sheen on the ocean's surface is residual oil from Tuesday night's explosion and the subsequent blaze.

Fearing a major spill, BP PLC said on Friday that it had "activated an extensive oil spill response", which included a 32-vessel clean-up flotilla and remotely controlled vehicles capable of assessing damage to the subsea well.

In 2009, BP PLC was fined a record $87m for failing to improve safety conditions following a massive explosion that killed 15 people at its Texas City refinery.

But the US Mineral Management Services found no violations on the Deepwater Horizon rig when it carried out routine inspections in February, March and April this year.

Should the rig leak, officials estimate that up to 336,000 gallons of oil a day could be released. At that rate, it would take more than a month for a spill to reach levels of the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989.

President Barack Obama said on Thursday that the government was providing "all assistance needed" for both the rescue and clean up efforts in the troubled area.

He described the crisis on the Deepwater Horizon, the BP leased rig, as his administration's "number one priority".

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 taken for treatment, 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.

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