Offshore gas platform sinks off Venezuela; no leak

Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez told state television that workers disconnected a tube leading from the gas fields to the Aban Pearl platform, preventing any leak or harm to marine life. He said alarms went off three hours before the sinking, giving the crew time to evacuate.
Many stepped into lifeboats and drifted free, said Abraham Natera, the rig's superintendent. Ramirez said the Indian captain and two assistants, including an American, stayed behind until the platform was badly tilting and about to collapse, and then hurled themselves into the water.

"They had to jump from the platform because at the last moment there was no possibility of getting off by boat," Ramirez told reporters.
The navy picked up the evacuees using a frigate and boats after the gas platform sank below the surface at 2:20 am (0650 GMT), Ramirez said.

President Hugo Chavez announced the sinking on Twitter, saying: "To my sorrow, I inform you that the Aban Pearl gas platform sank moments ago. The good news is that 95 workers are safe."

Unlike the disastrous oil spill caused by a rig explosion off the coast of Louisiana on April 20, the sinking of the gas rig posed no apparent threat to the environment, the oil minister said.

"There's no problem of any sort of any leak from the field into the environment," Ramirez said, explaining that safety valves were also shut as the tube was disconnected.
The rig was operating in waters about 160 meters deep off eastern Sucre state. Ramirez said there was a problem with the flotation systems of the semi-submergible platform that led to a huge water leak in one area.

The platform began tilting, until it was at a 45-degree angle and a flare tube that previously jutted out to the side was touching the water.
"Of course for some workers this is an emotional shock ... to be on a platform of that size that suddenly starts to tilt, and everything happened very quickly," Ramirez said. He commended the crew for staying calm as they lined up and evacuated on the lifeboats.

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