At least ten people are now confirmed dead from the fire at the ONGC platform off Bombay coast, and a search is under way for several still missing, Oil Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said.
He said 384 personnel had to abandon the platform when it caught fire yesterday afternoon, of whom 351 had been rescued.
"So far, 10 personnel are confirmed dead," Aiyar told parliament in Delhi.
It is unclear how many people are still missing, with various officials giving conflicting figures ranging from six to 34.
Some workers jumped into the Arabian Sea and clambered on to lifeboats while others scrambled to safety via a bridge to another rig, coast guard officials said.
The giant platform belonging to the state-run ONGC, some 160 kilometres west of Bombay, produces about 100,000 barrels of crude a day. It collapsed into the ocean soon after erupting in flame.
Authorities launched a massive rescue operation, sending eight naval and coast guard ships, two aircraft and four helicopters from the air force and navy.
"The injured were provided first aid by doctors and paramedics immediately on rescue," Aiyar said.
Vice Admiral Madanjit Singh, commander-in-chief of Western Naval Command, said earlier today that rescue operations are continuing in treacherous conditions.
"It is a difficult scenario due to uncertain rains," he said.
Singh said there is no confirmation yet of how the blaze began. "It might have been caused due to a survey ship hitting the leg of the structure of the platform," he said.
Of the 10 dead, six were ONGC employees and two were contract workers, an ONGC official said. Aiyar said two bodies have yet to be identified.
"After the fire broke out there was panic on the platform and some employees ... jumped into the sea," a coast guard official told the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency.
Military boats through the night criss-crossed the choppy waters in search of bodies but the rescue effort was being hampered by foul weather and unusally high seas, with India in full monsoon season.
Bombay recorded its heaviest-ever day of rainfall yesterday, disrupting transport and telecommunications.
Apart from the human casualties, the complete destruction of the oil platform is expected to cost India's oil supply dear.
The platform pumps oil from the Bombay High North (MHN) field, which produces 38 pct of the country's crude and is home to the country's biggest gas field, Bassein.
PTI quoted an unnamed ONGC official as saying that 70 pct of the platform's daily production of around 100,000 barrels will be restored in about two weeks.
"We have a contingency plan in place. The 15 wells that poured oil into MHN will be looped to other platforms in the area. We hope to restore 70 percent of the MHN's production in two weeks' time," the ONGC official said.
July 28, 2005
Source pictures below: OilPort.net