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3 Killed, 10 Hurt in Blast Aboard Petrobras Oil Platform

Huge investments, money-losing fuel subsidies and massive debt have forced Petrobras, whose Rio de Janeiro headquarters are shown above, to operate many facilities at full capacity for long periods without maintenance.

At least three oil workers were killed and 10 were injured in an explosion Wednesday at an offshore oil and natural gas platform in Brazil operated by state-run energy company Petroleo Brasileiro SA.

A gas leak appeared to be cause of the accident aboard the Cidade de Sao Mateus, a floating oil production, storage and offloading ship (FPSO), said Davidson Lomba, finance director of Sindepetro-ES, the union representing workers on the platform.

The ensuing fire was quickly contained and the platform was stabilized, Brazilian oil regulator ANP said in a statement. No oil leaked into ocean, it added.

Petrobras, as Brazil's national oil company is known, said in a statement that 74 workers were on board at the time of the accident. Six remain missing, the company said. Officials at Norway-listed ship leaser BW Offshore Ltd., owner of the ship, were not available for comment.

Lomba said it was unclear whether the dead and injured workers were members of his union, third-party Brazilian workers or foreign employees of BW Offshore.

Security concerns at Petrobras had already been mounting before the accident. Huge investments, money-losing fuel subsidies on imports and the largest debt of any oil company in the world have crimped cash and forced Petrobras to operate many facilities at full capacity for long periods without maintenance.

The company has also been dogged by a massive corruption scandal that has led to the arrest of three former Petrobras officials as well as the resignation of its CEO and five other top executives. Dozens of executives from major Petrobras contractors have also been arrested, leading to the cancellation of construction and repair contracts.

Such strains on operations have come as the company suffers from a series of serious accidents and forced maintenance orders at refineries and offshore oil platforms. Union officials also allege that the company's increasing reliance on nonunion contract workers has put installations and people at risk.

"It's our position that Petrobras is using too many contract workers who are not always qualified to operate equipment safely," Lomba said.

The platform operates in the Camarupim field 75 kilometers (47 miles) northeast of Vitoria, the capital of Espirito Santo state. The FPSO also processes natural gas that is sent to shore by undersea pipeline. The platform produces about 2.25 million cubic meters (88.3 million cubic feet) a day of natural gas and 350 cubic meters (2,200 barrels) a day of oil, according to ANP.

The Cidade de Sao Mateus began operating in the field in 2009 and is under contract until 2018, with an option of an extension until 2024.