Storm kills two Mexican oil workers, shuts ports

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MEXICO CITY, Oct 24 (Reuters) A fierce storm killed two Mexican oil workers and stranded dozens in rough waters today as they fled an offshore drilling platform damaged by 25-foot (8-meter) waves.

The bad weather shut Mexico's top three oil exporting ports in the crude-rich Gulf of Mexico for a second day, cutting off most of the country's oil shipments to the United States. Port officials saw it unlikely they would reopen before tomorrow.

''The weather is really bad, there is no chance ships can get in. There is a 99.9 per cent chance that the port will not open today,'' Jorge Rojano, port captain in Dos Bocas, Tabasco, told Reuters by telephone today.

Most of Mexico's crude is shipped from the Gulf ports of Dos Bocas, Cayo Arcas and Coatzacoalcos, which were closed on Tuesday morning as a severe cold front brought stormy seas and high winds. Temperatures plunged as far away as Mexico City.

State oil monopoly Pemex said 81 workers jumped from one platform into life rafts after rough seas caused a gas and oil leak. About 75 of them had been located but could not be reached, and the others were lost.

Spokesman Javier Delgado in Ciudad del Carmen said that as of 1 am 1130 ist, two of the workers had died. He said he did not have details on the circumstances of their deaths.

However, conditions had improved slightly and could help rescue teams reach workers in the next few hours.

One life raft was missing and some workers could have fallen into the sea as 80 mph winds lashed the platform, Pemex Chief Executive Jesus Reyes Heroles said late on Tuesday.

''We are still working to verify how many are in the (lost) life raft and to rescue those who were in the water. The weather has not helped,'' Reyes Heroles told Mexican television.

He described the damaged platform, 20 miles from the port of Dos Bocas, as minor in terms of production but said natural gas was still leaking from its well.

Mexico is a top three supplier of crude oil to the United States, which takes around 80 percent of its southern neighbor's oil exports.

Officials said ships stopped leaving the ports early on Tuesday and could not say when conditions would improve.

Pemex, which has exported an average of 1.708 million barrels of oil per day so far this year, said it should be able to adjust its shipping schedule to minimize the impact of the port closures.

REUTERS AE RK2116

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