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Widows of Brazil Oil Workers Mourn

March 21, 2001

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MACAE, Brazil (AP) _ Widows of oil workers tossed rose petals from a helicopter Wednesday over a mile-long oil slick in the South Atlantic where the world’s biggest floating oil rig sank Tuesday, taking eight bodies with it.

Meanwhile, the president of Brazil’s Environmental Protection Agency, Hamilton Casara, flew over the site of the spill to assess the damage, and an 11-boat flotilla worked to contain the oil.

According to the state oil company, Petrobras, some 80,000 gallons of mostly diesel fuel already had leaked but thanks to cleanup efforts and evaporation only 3,000 gallons remained on the surface.

``The slick is moving northeast out to sea but there is absolutely no risk whatsoever that it will hit beaches,″ said Petrobras’ Environment and Safety Superintendent Irani Varela.

An overflight of the area revealed a slick about a mile-and-a-half long and a half-mile wide along with scattered debris from the platform, which sank about 75 miles off the coast.

``It’s not a disaster. But the oil could affect migrating species and possibly ecosystems near the coast, like banks of coral,″ said Roberto Kishinami, the head of Greenpeace in Brazil. ``This will have an impact on the environment and Petrobras is glossing over it.″

Petrobras President Henri Phillipe Reichstul said he believed containers holding 312,000 gallons of diesel fuel would collapse under water pressure on the sea bottom at a depth of 4,455 feet.

The rig also had 78,000 gallons of crude _ most of it in hoses between the wells and the rig. Those hoses were attached when the rig went down and could break, he said.

The 40-story-tall rig began sinking on Thursday after three unexplained explosions ripped through it. Two of the 175 workers were killed, and eight others are missing, presumed dead inside the sunken rig. Rescue workers wept as the rig sank beneath the waves on Tuesday.

Petrobras said it had done everything possible to recover the bodies.

Relatives of the victims, however, believe otherwise.

``I won’t leave here without his death certificate, and I won’t stop fighting to get his body back,″ said Rita Araujo.

``They can turn the rig upside down, do anything they have to. I want Charles’s body. Even if it’s just the bones, I want them,″ said Vanusi Oscar, widow of oil worker Charles Oscar.

Varela, the Petrobras safety official, said recovering the bodies would be almost impossible given the depth of the water of about a mile.

Built in Italy and later modified in Canada, the rig was the top producer in the oil-rich Campos Basin, which accounts for most of the 1.5 million barrels of oil Brazil produces daily. The platform was pumping about 83,000 barrels of oil and processing 1.3 million cubic meters of gas daily, but the company had plans to raise its production to 180,000 barrels a day.

Oil workers plan to stage a 24-hour work stoppage to protest safety conditions and honor the dead on Thursday.

Update hourly