Hope fades for 11 workers after oil rig explosion

Officials said hopes are dimming for 11 missing workers after the Tuesday night, April 20, oil rig explosion 50 miles off the coast of Louisiana.

Relatives of the 11, all of whom were likely to be on the drilling platform at the time of the explosion, have been told that their loved ones are assumed dead.

While the 11 remain “missing,” 17 others were injured and air-lifted to hospitals where four remain in critical condition. The other 126 workers who were aboard the Transocean Ltd. Oil platform escaped safely. The rig, about twice the size of a football field, sank yesterday.

Carolyn Kemp is the grandmother of Roy Wyatt Kemp, 27, one of those officially missing. She told local newspapers that he would have been on the drilling platform when it exploded. “They’re assuming all those men are dead. That’s what we’ve heard,” she said.

A  negligence lawsuit was filed yesterday in New Orleans against Transocean. It was filed on behalf of Shane Roshto of Amite County, Miss., who was thrown overboard in the explosion and feared dead.

Adrian Rose, vice president of Transocean, put out a news release yesterday describing the explosion as a “blowout,” in which natural gas or oil forces its way up a well pipe. Calls to the company for further details today were not returned.

Company officials at first claimed that environmental damage appeared minimal.

The Coast Guard warned today that this may not be the case, that the situation is different now that the platform has sunk. They estimate that the well could be spilling up to 336,000 gallons of crude oil a day on top of the 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel that the rig itself carried. Crude oil from the well had been burning off but when the rig sunk on Thursday the fire was extinguished. Officials havn’t determined yet the extent of underwater spillage.

The United Steelworkers demanded yesterday an overhaul of health and safety within the oil industry. The explosion on the rig was the fourth oil industry accident in two weeks that has killed or seriously injured workers.

USW Vice President Gary Beavers, who heads the union’s oil sector, said in a phone interview that, “while this is a dangerous industry, there are too many workers losing their lives. The industry is long overdue for a complete overhaul of its health and safety provisions. How many more workers have to pay the price for the industry’s lack of a safety culture?”

The oil rig explosion, and the three deadly incidents of the last two weeks, come just before Workers Memorial Day, April 28. Workers killed or injured on the job are honored on that day when labor and its allies highlight the need for tough workplace safety laws.

On April 2, six workers were killed, including five USW members, in an explosion and fire in Tesoro’s Anacortes, Wash., refinery.

On April 14, three workers were injured, two seriously, in a fire at ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge, La., refinery.

One worker was killed April 19 in a crane incident on the Motiva Enterprises expansion project in Port Arthur, Texas.

USW President Leo Gerard said earlier this week that the deaths in the oil industry underline the need for both stronger workplace health and safety laws and tougher enforcement. He said that both the Tesoro refinery and the Massey Energy Co’s Upper Big Branch Mine in West Virginia, where 29 coal miners were killed on April 5, had “long and troubling” records of safety violations.

“America must introduce new factors into the computation to protect lives and limbs of workers who produce the energy on which this country depends,” Gerard said. “One factor is larger safety violation penalties – fines and shutdowns costly enough to outstrip profitability.”

Photo: Kelly Eugene hugs her son Jonathan while waiting to find out where they can pick up her husband, Kevin, a cook who was rescued from the Transocean Ltd. Oil platform after the rig exploded. Patrick Semansky/AP



John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward and a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.