Coast Guard calls off search for 11 missing in oil rig fire in Gulf of Mexico

By Associated Press
Saturday, April 24, 2010

NEW ORLEANS -- The Coast Guard on Friday called off its search for 11 workers missing since an explosion on an oil rig this week off the Louisiana coast.

Rear Adm. Mary Landry said crews had spent three days searching a large area surrounding the rig but could not find the missing workers.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) called Friday for a congressional investigation of safety practices at offshore oil rigs, saying the Tuesday explosion "shows we need to be asking a lot more tough questions of big oil." Nelson has led opposition in the Senate to offshore drilling.

A federal agency that oversees offshore oil drilling has grown so concerned about the number of related deaths and injuries that it was moving to impose new safety rules even before the explosion.

A Minerals Management Service review published last year found 41 deaths and 302 injuries in 1,443 accidents, the majority caused by human error and operational and maintenance problems. The new rules focus on preventing human error, a safety area that had not received much attention in the past.

Most of the crew of the Deepwater Horizon -- 111 members -- are now ashore, including 17 taken to hospitals. Four were in critical condition Friday.

As officials continued to investigate what caused the explosion, crews were making progress cleaning up oil from the blast and trying to contain the spill.

Landry said no oil appeared to be leaking from a well head at the ocean floor, nor was any leaking at the water's surface. But she said crews would continue to monitor the rig. .

BP PLC, which leased the rig and is taking the lead in the cleanup, said it has activated an extensive oil spill response.

At midday Friday, at least a half-dozen boats were visible with booms extended in loops, trapping a thin oil sheen that extended about seven miles north of where the rig sank.

Environmentalists said the explosion was a reminder that the industry was dangerous.

"I would hope it would serve as another wake-up call on this issue that there is no such thing as safe oil drilling," said Sara Wan, a California Coastal Commission member who opposes offshore drilling. "Once that oil starts leaking in the ocean, that damage is irreversible."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Obama had no plans to give up his effort to expand offshore drilling. Gibbs said Obama continues to believe that the United States needs a comprehensive solution to its energy problems, including expanded domestic production of oil and natural gas.

"I doubt this is the first accident that has happened, and I doubt it will be the last," Gibbs said.

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