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Body found near burned Gulf oil platform

By Karen Brooks

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - Authorities have recovered the body of a Filipino worker who went missing from an oil platform that caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico, officials said on Sunday.

Divers contracted by Black Elk Energy, which owns the platform off the coast of Louisiana, found the body Saturday evening while they were inspecting the structure, said U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Carlos Vega.

Officials from the Philippine Embassy in Washington said the body was one of two Filipino workers on the rig who were missing after Friday's blaze. Divers have not found the second worker.

Their names have not been released.

"We continue to hope and pray that our other kababayan is still alive and would be recovered soon," said Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr., using the Tagalog word for countryman.

The Coast Guard referred additional questions to Black Elk officials, who have not returned calls seeking comment.

The victims were employees of Grand Isle Shipyard Inc., which provides workers to Black Elk Energy Offshore Operations, a Houston-based independent oil and gas company.

The Coast Guard suspended its search for the missing workers early Saturday evening after three helicopter crews, a Coast Guard cutter and a plane spent the day scanning a 1,400 square-mile (3,625 square km) area around the platform.

The blaze was touched off on Friday when workers were welding a pipe on a deck of the platform in shallow waters. Twenty-two people were on board the rig when the fire broke out and unleashed a black plume of smoke. Eleven workers were evacuated and nine others were taken by helicopter to hospitals.

The platform sits in 56 feet of water 17 miles south of Grand Isle, Louisiana, and production had been shut down since mid-August, Black Elk said.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which enforces offshore drilling regulations, is investigating.

The incident occurred a day after oil giant BP agreed to pay a record $4.5 billion in penalties for the 2010 Gulf oil spill that killed 11 workers and spewed 4.9 million barrels of oil.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Doina Chiacu)

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