ROY C. MABASA
MANILA, Philippines--- Filipino workers are very much in demand among the big oil companies because of their skills and experience.
Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose L. Cuisia Jr. disclosed this following his visit to New Orleans to look into the conditions of Filipinos affected by the explosion and fire that hit an oil platform off the coast of Louisiana last November 16.
He said Filipino workers were cited for their safety-conscious attitude, work ethic, knowledge of their respective craft, ability to communicate well in English, and their overall attitude toward the work
“Many of these welders, fitters, and riggers have many years of experience and the companies they are employed in have expressed their satisfaction and admiration for their work ethics,” said Cuisia. “This is why the Filipino workers are highly valued and very well compensated.”
Special attention is now focused on Filipino workers who, unknown to many, played a crucial role in restoring oil production in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina seven years ago.
Cuisia said that although Filipinos first set foot in Louisiana as early as the 1700s, it was only in 2005 that workers from the Philippines started making their presence felt in the offshore oil industry in the Gulf of Mexico.
It was Grand Isle Shipyard, Inc. (GSI), a highly diversified oilfield service company based in Galliano, Louisiana, who brought the Filipinos to the Gulf of Mexico following the destruction wrought by Katrina in August 2005.
In November 2005, when many of Louisiana’s oil platforms were destroyed by the typhoon, GIS hired an initial crew of 24 men from the Philippines and by early 2006, there were more than 350 Filipinos working in the Gulf of Mexico.
Cuisia said he was informed by GIS Operations Manager Mark Pregeant that Filipinos contributed over 500,000 man-hours throughout that six-month period to help restore oil production in the Gulf of Mexico
Pregeant told Cuisia that without the help of the Filipino oil workers there would have been “significant delays.”
Cuisia pointed out that Filipinos are not new to the oil and gas sector as they have been working in oil fields, refineries and offshore platforms in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Australia as early as the 1970s.
Citing current available statistics provided by the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, the Philippine envoy said as many as 40,000 Filipinos are working in the offshore oil and gas industry in various parts of the world as of November.
Almost 2,000 of them are working in the US, including Louisiana, which accounts for 23 percent of total US crude oil production.
In particular, Cuisia noted that the nine Filipinos, who figured in the explosion and fire that hit the oil platform they were working off the coast of Louisiana last week, belong to a pool of highly skilled workers with an average 10 years of experience working in various oil and gas sector projects overseas.
The accident left one Filipino worker dead, four others seriously injured, and one other missing. It has placed the spotlight on workers from the Philippines.
Meanwhile, Cuisia announced that the respective family members of the Filipino oil workers who were affected by the recent fire in the oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico are now en route to and are expected to arrive starting Thursday (Friday Manila time) in New Orleans.
Cuisia said the Philippine Consulate General in Chicago will be assisting family members of the lone fatality, the four seriously injured worker and the missing worker when they transit through O’Hare International Airport on their way to New Orleans.
In a report to Cuisia, Consul General Leo Herrera Lim of the Philippine Consulate General in Chicago said that there have been no changes in the conditions of the four Filipinos currently undergoing treatment for the serious burns they sustained in the incident.
Two remain in critical condition and the third is still serious, while the fourth is improving.
On the other hand, preparations for the repatriation of the remains of the lone fatality, Ellroy Corporal, 42, have started after these were turned over by the Coroner’s Officer to a local funeral home.
Cuisia also revealed that Black Elk, the Houston-based independent oil and gas firm that owns the ill-fated platform, suspended early this week the formal search and rescue efforts for missing worker Jerome Malagapo, 28, after more than 100 hours of operations that encompassed more than 1,400 square meters of waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
Black Elk said the search involved three commercial dive boats, search and rescue dogs, beach and near shore searches and several helicopter companies that fly in support of surface search efforts.
“We will continue to remain focused on the victims and their families, including those injured in the incident. An official investigation is underway and we will continue to cooperate with all authorities,” Black Elk said in a statement.
In New Orleans, investigators from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement of the Department of Interior interviewed the three Filipinos survivors to determine the cause of the fire that struck their oil production platform. The three were accompanied by Welfare Officer Saul de Vries when they gave their testimonies to investigators.
Also, earlier this week, John Hoffman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Black Elk Energy, called Ambassador Cuisia to express his condolences and to assure the Embassy that the company will extend its assistance to the families of the affected workers who will start arriving in the US.