by

With Gram Slattery

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – On Friday, May 1, two workers on the PXA-1 offshore platform owned by the Brazilian state-owned oil company, Petrobras, checked into the facility’s hospital with complaints of headaches and symptoms such as fever.

Another Petrobras employee fell ill the following day, three workers from the bridge told Reuters.

The disease spread further in the following days, triggering anxiety among the 45 workers in it, all but one of whom later tested positive for the new corona virus, according to the local union.

While all have recovered, three workers, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media, said they were very sad because they believed Petrobras failed to take standard precautions now to prevent the spread of the virus. viruses, like testing workers before they get on the rig or provide them with high-quality masks.

Three workers and Paolo Valterson, local union health director, questioned why workers were not evacuated to the nearby town of Fortaleza in northeast Brazil until four days after the first showed symptoms. They were quarantined at a hotel in the city for 15 days, according to Valterson.

In recent months, Reuters has discovered, coronaviruses have suppressed oil production and exposed Petrobras, which employs more than 45,000 people and is the largest company in Latin America with most actions, for possible legal problems.

By mid-June, federal prosecutors had opened 25 investigations related to coronavirus on the behavior of companies based in Rio de Janeiro at maritime facilities alone, according to information obtained through a request for public information.

Local prosecutors said in a statement that they had opened an investigation into the incident on the PXA-1 platform.

Responding to Reuters’ questions about outbreaks and legal investigations, Petrobras said it had been in discussions with authorities to show that its health and safety measures were “among the most stringent adopted in the oil industry.”

The company, officially known as Petroleo Brasileiro SA, confirmed that a coronavirus outbreak had occurred on the PXA-1 platform, but did not reveal the number of infections.

Petrobras told Reuters that all crew members had descended from the platform, without specifying a date. The company said it had conducted more than 70,000 tests among its employees and subcontractors throughout the country.

But that did not prevent the virus from tearing up around 155 offshore oil platforms, according to public and confidential data analysis and conversations with doctors, workers, executives and government officials.

Brazil registered 1,427 confirmed cases of the corona virus among offshore oil workers on July 10, according to ANP, the country’s oil regulator. That means about 3% of all workers in this sector have been infected with the virus, which is about six times the average incidence in Brazil, home to the worst outbreaks in Latin America.

In an undisclosed earlier development, two major oil platforms owned by Japanese company Modec Inc. and producing oil for Petrobras – Cidade de Mangaritiba and Cidade de Angra dos Reis – stopped working in May due to a coronavirus outbreak, ANP told Reuters.

Data from regulators showed production on the two platforms in May fell by around 125,000 barrels per day from February levels, a difference equivalent to 4.5% of Brazil’s total output.

Petrobras declined to comment on the incident.

Modec confirmed the cessation of production, saying they were designed to protect workers. The oil service company said they tightly controlled access to offshore facilities and tested all employees for the corona virus before they departed.

‘CITIZEN COMPANY’

The spread of the virus in Brazil’s oil fields is a clear reminder of the hard work faced by blue-collar workers throughout Latin America. This region has emerged as one of the worst coronavirus hot spots in the world, with more than 3 million confirmed infections, mostly in Brazil.

Among those fortunate enough to have formal employment, many worked hard in cramped facilities, churning out commodities from copper to meat to iron ore or oil. Even when outbreaks have hit slaughterhouses, refineries and mines throughout the region, most employees have been considered important.

Brazilian mining giant Vale SA and meat packer JBS SA are among the companies that have handled coronavirus outbreaks among their workers.

Those who work on offshore oil rigs are very vulnerable to COVID-19, a respiratory disease caused by a virus, because they go up for weeks at a time and work, sleep and eat in close contact with each other.

Although the United States was also devastated by the pandemic, oil companies operating there only identified 154 cases of corona virus at an offshore facility on June 29 despite widespread testing, according to the National Maritime Industry Association (NOIA), an industry group.

At least six oilfield operators in Brazil have registered cases between employees and contractors, according to three people who know the company’s operations, who are asking for anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media.

Petrobas is by far the largest operator locally.

Worker complaints vary from plague to plague, although among the most common doubts is the alleged failure to evacuate the rig immediately.

Petrobras said workers who showed symptoms on the rig were evaluated by the medical team and, if classified as a suspected COVID-19 case, were dismissed. Other workers who had very close contact with them also dropped out, tested and monitored, the company said.

Workers have also accused Petrobras of failing until early June to implement universal testing for workers leaving for offshore facilities. Union officials consulted by Reuters were very annoyed that the company donated 600,000 test kits to the federal and state governments in late April, according to a company statement, even when union officials demanded pre-departure tests as early as March, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters.

Petrobras told Reuters that it was one of the first Brazilian companies to start obtaining a test kit, adding that he began launching tests for offshore workers on April 20.

While initially concentrated in southeast Brazil, the heart of the country’s oil industry, pre-departure testing was later extended to all parts of Brazil. The company said more than 43% of its direct and indirect workers were tested on June 29, adding that the high incidence of coronaviruses among offshore oil workers might be partly due to higher testing rates than in Brazil as a whole.

Regarding the donation of test kits to federal and state authorities, Petrobras said he considered himself a “citizen company,” and, as such, was responsible for protecting the health of the people of Brazil.

CORONAVIRUS HEAT PLACE

45 workers on the PXA-1 platform off the Ceara coast are among those who have not been tested, even when the country and its capital Fortaleza had become one of Brazil’s worst corona virus hot spots in late April, according to Valterson, the official union.

The platform, which is decades old, consists of a shared bedroom, dining room, kitchen, meeting room and gym, according to one employee who spoke with Reuters.

Two workers told Reuters that once on the rig they were given a thin mask that needed self-assembly, with a hole where the elastic tape was inserted holding the face mask in place. They say the mask provided in the following weeks is significantly more complicated.

The workers also describe the significant movement of employees between the platforms, which are usually reduced by oilfield operators to limit the potential spread of the corona virus.

One employee who said he was later tested positive for the virus, the results were confirmed by the union, took a boat to a neighboring platform where he was quarantined for showing symptoms, two other workers said.

Petrobras said workforce on the PXA-1 and adjacent PXA-2 platforms had been reduced by half at the time of the outbreak, with only a small number of employees needed for “maintenance and preservation” remaining on the ship. The company added that workers had been given “non-professional-level” masks that had been approved by occupational safety officials in Brazil.

(Reporting by Gram Slattery; Editing by Christian Plumb and Paul Simao)



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