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Burn victim from Gulf of Mexico oil platform blast dies

Gerald Herbert / AP

An aerial photograph shows a supply vessel near an oil rig damaged by an explosion and fire on Nov. 16 in the Gulf of Mexico about 25 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La.

NEW ORLEANS -- One of the men burned when an offshore oil platform exploded in flames in Louisiana died Friday, the Philippines ambassador said.

The ambassador, Jose L. Cuisia Jr., said in a news release that 49-year-old Avelino Tajonera died shortly after his wife and three children arrived from Manila.

Three other men remain hospitalized. The ambassador said their families are in Baton Rouge.


The explosion and fire on Nov. 16 also killed 42-year-old Ellroy Corporal, whose body was found in the waters nearby. The search for another man, 28-year-old Jerome Malagapo, was called off.

The explosion and fire occurred on a platform run by Black Elk Energy in the Gulf of Mexico about 25 miles southeast of Grand Isle, La.

A federal agency told Black Elk on Wednesday that it needs to improve safety at its offshore operations.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said Black Elk has been cited numerous times for incidents in which it failed to comply with regulations.

The bureau noted the fire and an October 2011 incident where use of an acid-based chemical resulted in the hospitalization of six workers. Another 2010 violation resulted in a $307,000 fine.

"Black Elk has repeatedly failed to operate in a manner that is consistent with federal regulations," BSEE Director James A. Watson said in a news release. "BSEE has taken a number of enforcement actions, including issuing numerous Incidents of Non Compliance (INC's), levying civil penalties and calling in the company's senior leadership to review their performance and the ramifications of failing to improve."

The bureau's letter to Black Elk CEO John Hoffman said failure to improve overall performance could lead to steps including revocation of the company's authorization to operate its offshore facilities. Black Elk's website says it has an interest in 155 offshore platforms.

The cause of the accident is under investigation.

"We appreciate the perspective of the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement," Black Elk spokeswoman Leslie Hoffman said in an emailed response to a request for comment. "Safety is a high priority for Black Elk Energy and we will continue to work cooperatively with local and national federal agencies to understand exactly what happened with the incident at our platform in the Gulf of Mexico."

BSEE said it ordered Black Elk to submit a performance improvement plan by Dec. 15. And the bureau outlined several steps that must be taken to improve safety. Those include an end to "hot work" on facilities until the company can demonstrate "that steps have been taken, and a safety manager is in place whose responsibility it will be to improve hazard identification, training, and oversight for such operations."

Hot work is work that can produce flames, sparks or a source of ignition — such as welding or grinding. The Coast Guard said Friday that a torch was in use at the time of the accident. Grand Isle Shipyard Inc., a subcontractor that was doing maintenance on the platform, has said a welding torch was not in use at the time of the accident.

Other steps outlined by BSEE include keeping the site of Friday's fire shut down, along with other Black Elk facilities where operations have been stopped, or "shut in." BSEE estimated that 41 Black Elk sites are shut in for various reasons.

Friday's accident was on a production platform in shallow water off Louisiana's coast, but it was not producing oil at the time and did not result in a continuous leak of oil, unlike the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. 

NBC News staff contributed to this report from The Associated Press.

Eleven people were injured in the production platform blast and oil spillage was minimal, according to the Coast Guard. NBC's Brian Williams reports.

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