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The world's largest offshore oil platform sank in just a few minutes this morning, five days after powerful blasts rocked the rig and killed 10 people, Brazil's state oil giant Petrobras said.
The 40-story-tall rig, 75 miles off the Brazilian coast, was damaged last Thursday by explosions and fire that killed at least two workers. Eight others are still missing and presumed dead. The explosion knocked out a supporting pillar, and the platform tilted and sank slowly into the sea off the coast of Macae, 120 miles northeast of Rio.
Petrobras flew in experts and equipment from around the world to try to keep the rig afloat. Over the weekend, a team of navy divers, engineers and foreign consultants injected nitrogen into flooded compartments, partly righting it, Petrobras said.
But high winds and rough seas hindered efforts Monday. Petrobras said the platform "shifted suddenly" early Tuesday morning, and workers gave up trying to save it.
The platform was pumping about 83,000 barrels of oil and processing 1.3 million cubic meters of gas daily.
There are fears that up to 395,000 gallons of crude and diesel in underwater pipelines and onboard tanks could spill into the ocean.
Chief Executive Henri Philippe Reichstul said the oil and gas wells were sealed before the rig was evacuated, but the danger was that the oil still aboard could spill. In an official statement, the company played down the risk.
Petrobras has 13 ships stationed around the stricken rig with floating oil barriers to contain an eventual spill.
Brazil had aimed to be self sufficient in auto fuel production by 2005, and the sunken platform was crucial to the project. The company estimates the sinking will cost it $100 million per month.