Oil workers missing off stormy Mexico coast

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VILLAHERMOSA, Mexico — Mexico’s state oil company said Friday it was searching for 10 workers from a Texas-based company who evacuated from a platform in the Gulf of Mexico ahead of Tropical Storm Nate.

Petroleos Mexicanos said it has two ships searching in the area where the workers, employed by Houston-based Geokinetics Inc., called for help Thursday afternoon after leaving a “jack-up” structure, the Trinity II, on an evacuation vessel.

Victor Manuel Perez, captain of the port of Frontera, only could confirm that the majority of the missing are foreigners.

Geokinetics specializes in seismic studies for the oil and gas industry.

Pemex said its ships couldn’t reach the area about 8 miles (13 kilometers) off shore of the southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco because of high winds and waves.

This NOAA satellite image taken on Sept. 9, 2011, at 01:45 a.m. EDT shows Hurricane Katia located about 360 miles northwest of Bermuda. (Associated Press/Weather Underground)

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This NOAA satellite image taken on Sept. 9, 2011, at 01:45 a.m. ... more >

Tropical Storm Nate was drifting slowly northwestward over the southern Gulf Friday with maximum sustained winds of near 65 mph (100 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was centered about 140 miles (225 kilometers) west of Campeche. Forecasters said it was expected to become a hurricane later Friday or Saturday and hit Mexico’s Gulf Coast Sunday or Monday.

A hurricane watch was declared from Tampico to Veracruz.

The boat carrying the 10 employees called for help Thursday afternoon as it was trying to reach the nearby oil port of Dos Bocas, Perez said.

“The boats are in place, we have enough equipment, but is not an easy rescue because of the rain, strong winds and high waves recorded in the area now,” he added, and the operations are being coordinated by Pemex from Dos Bocas.

Jackup structures are tugboat-towed rigs with legs for offshore drilling.

Gulf of Mexico ports were closed to navigation Friday and preparation were underway in the neighboring Gulf state of Veracruz, where civil protection authorities decreed a tropical storm alert Friday for 212 municipalities.

Tropical Storm Maria, meanwhile, could reach the Lesser Antilles in the Atlantic by Friday night and rain from what had been Tropical Storm Lee continued inundating a wide portion of Pennsylvania and other northeastern states, leaving at least seven dead.

Maria’s maximum sustained winds early Friday were near 45 mph (75 kph), with some slight strengthening possible, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami and it was moving toward the west-northwest near 17 mph (28 kph).

A tropical storm warning was in effect for a host of islands: Antigua, Anguilla, Barbuda, Montserrat, Nevis, St. Kitts, the British Virgin Islands, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, St. Maartin, Saba and St. Eustatius.

A tropical storm watch was in effect for St. Barthelemy, St. Marteen, Martinique, Dominica, and Puerto Rico including Vieques and Culebra.

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