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Brazilian oil rig sinking in Atlantic

A crippled oil rig slipped deeper into the south Atlantic on Friday, as federal petroleum giant Petrobras weighed the risks of trying to go aboard to prevent a spill of the 400,000 gallons of oil on board.

"We want to be sure it won't sink suddenly and that if experts go aboard there is no risk," said Irani Varela, the company's director of security.

Three explosions on Thursday damaged a pillar supporting the rig, Brazil's largest, 75 miles off the Atlantic coast. The rig was the top producer in the rich Campos Basin, 120 miles northeast of Rio, which accounts for most of the 1.5-million barrels Brazil produces daily.

One worker died of burns and another was hospitalized in serious condition. Nine others were missing and presumed dead, Varela said.

The rig was listing at a 30-degree angle and had sunk between 20 and 40 inches since Thursday, Varela said. But it had not tilted any farther, and Petrobras said there was a chance to save it.

"We are working to recover it," Varela said. "We are trying to remove part of the water (from flotation tanks) so it will return to a horizontal position."

Thirteen ships with floating anti-oil barriers were stationed around the rig, he said. Some 400,000 gallons of crude oil and diesel fuel were still aboard and could spill into the sea if the rig sinks.

Petrobras chief executive Henri Philippe Reichstul said Thursday that there was no spill from the accident and that all the undersea oil and gas wells had been sealed.

Meanwhile, Petrobras workers hung a huge black banner from the company's headquarters in downtown Rio on Friday in mourning for the victims and to protest against what some said were lax safety standards. Refinery workers also stopped work briefly.

The accident has sparked a debate over recent changes in the company, which is trying to shed its image as an inefficient state-run behemoth. Under Reichstul, the company registered a record net profit of $5-billion last year.

But Petrobras also has sharply reduced its payroll and hired private companies to do many jobs its own employees used to do. Critics say the private-sector workers are not as well trained, which increases safety risks.