Today's Paper

Bombay High oil platform destroyed

4 killed, 44 missing after fire

Sushma Ramchandran and Agencies

Sushma Ramchandran

and Agencies

NEW DELHI: In one of the worst disasters in the history of India's petroleum industry, an entire offshore oil platform in the Bombay High area was gutted on Wednesday.

Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said four persons were confirmed dead and 44 were missing in the "terrible tragedy".

The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) platform, BHN, about 160 km from the coast, caught fire around 4.30 p.m. He said there were 385 persons on the platform when the fire occurred.

Mr. Aiyar said the cause of fire was yet to be established. Officials said a massive high tide hit the supply vessel, which caught fire. It soon spread to the platform.

ONGC sources later said the vessel, which rammed the platform setting it on fire, belonged to the Shipping Corporation of India.

Oil production from the platform is estimated at 100,000 barrels a day or five million tonnes a year.

Rescue under way

Mr. Aiyar said search and rescue operations were under way though the entire Pawan Hans fleet of helicopters was grounded due to flooding in Mumbai. ONGC officials said Coast Guard and Navy ships rescued 331 persons. Several people abandoned the platform and jumped into the Arabian Sea, the sources said. Eight Navy and Coast Guard ships had been sent to the accident site to pick up the survivors. Dornier aircraft and the naval commando helicopter, Sea King, were pressed into operation to drop life rafts near the burning platform.

ONGC chairman Subir Raha said the tide was high at the time of the accident and an on-site investigation would have to be carried out. Declining to give figures for revenue loss, he said the highest priority now was to carry out search and rescue operations and control the discharge of effluents into the sea.

A senior official said that as soon as the fire broke out, 15 to 20 wells connected to the processing platform were automatically switched off. The crude in the pipeline was burning and oil spilling into the sea after the platform collapsed.

Rig abandoned

Apart from the platform, a multipurpose support vehicle meant for fire fighting caught fire, Mr. Aiyar said. A drilling rig, NCYAFTER, nearby had to be abandoned by the workers.

Another drilling rig in the vicinity was being brought to help with the rescue, he said.

The BHN platform is part of the Bombay High offshore oilfield, which accounts for roughly 40 per cent of the country's crude production.

Oil industry experts say the last serious accident occurred in the 1980s when an offshore platform caught fire and had to be sold for scrap. The number of casualties was quite small.

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