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Azerbaijan mourns following deadly rig fire

Rescuers continue to search for 29 missing oil platform workers who had evacuated when an offshore rig in the Caspian Sea caught fire. Two workers have been confirmed killed in the mishap.

Efforts to locate the missing offshore oil workers continued Sunday, two days after high winds damaged a gas line and caused a fire to break out on the No. 10 platform in the Caspian Sea.

Rescuers evacuated 33 people from the deep-water platform in the Guneshli offshore field, where they had been hanging in lifeboats 10 meters (35 feet) above the stormy sea.

The platform is owned and operated by SOCAR. The company says a lifeboat detached and fell into the water. Those workers are unaccounted for.

"We are looking for 29 people. Whether they are alive or dead we don't know. Before we find them we cannot pronounce them dead," company vice-president Khoshbakht Yusifzade told a press briefing on Sunday.

That has led to fears the death toll could be as high as an independent watchdog warned on Saturday. The company released a manifest listing 62 workers on the rig.

Some 11 helicopters were still searching for the lifeboat that was last sighted 50 kilometers (30 miles) from the rig, SOCAR said. Azerbaijan's government has asked other Caspian nations Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia, and Turkmenistan to aid in recovering the bodies if necessary.

Inquiry opened

Aserbaidschan Kaspisches Meer Ölplattform brennt

A still image from video footage shows the burning platform on December 5, 2015.

There were also indications that safety regulations had been violated, a judicial spokesman told the DPA news agency. A presidential commission was appointed Saturday to oversee the investigation into the incident.

Meanwhile, the president's office has announced that Sunday would be a day of national mourning for the lives lost.

"Flags will be at half-staff in Azerbaijan as well as its diplomatic missions in other countries," an unnamed government official told the AFP news agency. "Entertainment events and television concert programs have been canceled."

The Guneshli deposits were discovered in 1981 in the south Caspian Sea, some 90 kilometers (55 miles) east of the capital, Baku.

There have been a number of fatal incidents on offshore oil rigs in recent years. In 2011, a drilling platform sank in a storm off Russia's far eastern coast, killing 53 people.

jar/sms (AFP, dpa)

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