Black Elk Energy says it's brought in another dive vessel to help search for a worker who went missing during an oil platform fire in the Gulf of Mexico Friday. A body believed to be that of a second missing worker was found and brought to shore yesterday.
Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Vega said late Saturday that the unidentified person was found by divers hired by Houston-based Black Elk Energy who were inspecting the platform. Vega said the Coast Guard was turning over the remains to local authorities.
John Hoffman, the president and CEO of Black Elk Energy, said in an email late Saturday that the body is that of one of two crew members missing since an explosion and fire on the oil platform Friday morning. Hoffman said the body was found by a contracted dive vessel at 5:25 p.m. CST.
"Divers will continue to search for the second missing worker," Hoffman wrote. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families."
The news came shortly after the Coast Guard suspended a 32-hour-long search for the two missing workers that covered 1,400 square miles near the oil platform, located about 20 miles (40 kilometers) southeast of Grand Isle, La.
"We have saturated the search area several times — the 1400-square-foot area," Vega said. "We saw no signs of life. We have suspended the search and it is pending further development. If we receive any credible information that there are signs of life, we can resume the search at any time."
Four other workers who were severely burned remained at Baton Rouge General Medical Center on Saturday night.
Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Bobby Nash said the Guard's search was ended early Saturday evening. Helicopters and a fixed-wing aircraft had been searching by air, while cutters and boat crews searched the sea.
"The search is suspended pending further developments," the Coast Guard said in a news release Saturday night.
Early reports indicated a cutting torch mistakenly used to repair an oil pipe sparked the blast.
"But in fact, when we went out today there was not a cutting torch in that area," Hoffman said. "There were other tools that could be a source of ignition."
Four workers were severely burned, though Black Elk Energy spokeswoman Leslie Hoffman said their burns were not as extensive as initially feared.
Officials at Baton Rouge General Medical Center said Saturday that two men remained in critical condition, while two men remained in serious condition. The four, being treated in a burn unit, are employees of oilfield contractor Grand Isle Shipyard and are from the Philippines. The hospital said it and Grand Isle Shipyard are trying to reach the men's families in the Philippines.
It's unclear whether the missing men worked for a contractor. Grand Isle Shipyard employed 14 of the 22 workers on the platform at the time of the incident, WWL-TV in New Orleans reported. A man who answered the phone at the company's Galliano, La., office on Saturday said no one was available to comment.
Meanwhile, officials said no oil was leaking from the charred platform, a relief for Gulf Coast residents still weary two years after the BP oil spill illustrated the risk that offshore drilling poses to the region's ecosystem and economy.
Friday's fire sent an ominous black plume of smoke into the air reminiscent of the deadly 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that transformed the oil industry and life along the U.S. Gulf Coast
James A. Watson, the director of Louisiana's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, said in a statement Saturday that his agency had begun "an investigation into the explosion and fire aboard a Black Elk Energy production platform offshore Louisiana."
"Our thoughts and prayers are with those injured and missing and their families," Watson said. "BSEE is committed to determining the direct and indirect causes of the explosion and will take appropriate enforcement action."
The Deepwater Horizon blaze killed 11 workers and led to an oil spill that took months to bring under control. Friday's fire came a day after BP PLC agreed to plead guilty to a raft of charges in the 2010 spill and pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties.
There were a few important differences between this latest blaze and the one that touched off the worst offshore spill in U.S. history: Friday's fire was put out within hours, while the Deepwater Horizon burned for more than a day, collapsed and sank.
The Black Elk Energy facility is a production platform in shallow water, rather than an exploratory drilling rig like the Deepwater Horizon looking for new oil on the seafloor almost a mile (1.6 kilometers) deep.
The depth of the 2010 well blow-out proved to be a major challenge in bringing the disaster under control.
The Black Elk Energy platform is in 56 feet (17 meters) of water — a depth much easier for engineers to manage if a spill had happened.
A sheen of oil about a half-mile (800 meters) long and 200 yards (180 meters) wide was reported on the Gulf surface, but officials believe it came from residual oil on the platform.
"It's not going to be an uncontrolled discharge from everything we're getting right now," Coast Guard Capt. Ed Cubanski said.
Leslie Hoffman, the Black Elk Energy spokeswoman, said Saturday that there were still no signs of any leak or spill at the platform site.
BP's blown-out well spewed millions of gallons (liters) of oil into the sea, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of the mouth of the Mississippi River on the east side of the river delta. The crude fouled beaches, marshes and rich seafood grounds.
After Friday's blaze, 11 people were taken by helicopter to area hospitals or for treatment on shore by emergency medical workers.
The production platform is on the western side of the Mississippi River delta. The Coast Guard said more than 20 people were aboard the platform at the time of the fire.
"The company continues to cooperate closely with all state and federal agencies," company officials said in a news release Saturday. "As reported yesterday, this platform was not in operation and had been shut in since mid-August. According to visual reports from this morning, there is no visible sheen in the vicinity of the platform. "