BATON ROUGE, Louisiana—Three of four Filipinos who were seriously burned in the explosion and fire that struck the offshore oil platform they were working on in the Gulf of Mexico remain in guarded condition four days after the incident left one Filipino dead and another still missing.
Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. made the disclosure after he was briefed by officials of the Baton Rouge General Hospital on the condition of the four injured Filipinos following his arrival from Washington, D.C. on Monday morning (Monday night in Manila).
“The condition of the three Filipino workers who suffered the most serious burns remains guarded while the fourth continues to improve,” Ambassador Cuisia said as he expressed hopes that all four would recover from their injuries.
Ambassador Cuisia, accompanied by Deputy Consul General Orontes Castro, Jr. of the Philippine Consulate General in Chicago, were later allowed by hospital officials to see Wilberto Ilagan, the less serious among the four burn victims.
“The entire Philippines is praying for your immediate recovery,” Ambassador Cuisia told the 50-year-old Ilagan at the hospital’s Regional Burn Unit. The envoy told Ilagan he was sent there by President Aquino and Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert Del Rosario to personally look into his condition and to extend all possible assistance to him and his family in the Philippines.
Ilagan, who sustained burns in 35 percent of his body, expressed his appreciation for the visit and the assurance of government assistance. The injured worker, who was in a wheelchair and assisted by a Filipina nurse, had earlier issued a statement asking his doctors to “tell my countrymen to pray for us and our quick recovery… And that our caregivers are always with us, and they are very kind to us.”
Ambassador Cuisia said the doctors are hopeful that the critically injured workers will recover over time as they will be provided the best medical attention the hospital, which is considered the best burn center in the region, can give.
Mark Preagent, president of Grand Isle Shipyard Inc., the company that deployed the Filipinos to the oil platform, also assured Ambassador Cuisia that he will ensure that the injured workers will get their full benefits as well as the best care possible to ensure their recovery.
Ambassador Cuisia, at the same time, said there was still no word on the fate of Jerome Malagapo, 28, of Danao, Cebu, who remains missing more than three days after the incident. He said Black Elk Energy, the Houston-based independent oil and gas firm that owns the ill-fated platform, will continue searching for him.
Meanwhile, the autopsy on the remains of the lone fatality, Elroy Corporal, 42, of Iligan City, was undertaken as scheduled on Monday by the Coroner’s Office in New Orleans. Ambassador Cuisia said the Philippine Consulate General in Chicago under Consul General Leo Herrera-Lim will issue the necessary documents to facilitate the repatriation.
Ambassador Cuisia said there were nine Filipino contract workers on the platform at the time of the explosion. Two were able to make it to safety without any injury while one suffered a sprained ankle but did not require hospitalization. The nine are among 154 welders, structural fitters, scaffolders and riggers who were hired in the Philippines to work in various offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico.
In a press conference held at the Baton Rouge General Hospital in the afternoon, Ambassador Cuisia expressed the appreciation of the Philippine Government to the assistance extended to the Filipino victims. Present during the press conference were Rep. Bill Cassidy of the Sixth District of Louisiana; Baton Rouge Mayor Melvin Holden; and former Louisiana Gov. Buddy Roemer.
“On behalf of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, I would like to express my profound gratitude to the medical team here for taking care of four of our nationals who were seriously injured in last Friday’s unfortunate incident in the Gulf of Mexico,” Ambassador Cuisia said in his statement.
“I am sure that with the special care and attention you have been extending, our four countrymen would recuperate sooner than later,” the top Filipino diplomat in the US said as he also expressed Manila’s appreciation to the US Coast Guard for helping evacuate the injured Filipino oil workers and for spearheading the initial search and rescue efforts for the missing workers.
“I also thank Black Elk Energy for continuing the search efforts and for ensuring, along with Grand Isle Shipyard, that the needs of our affected nationals are properly taken care of,” said Ambassador Cuisia, who also took the opportunity to thank Mayor Holden for his offer of assistance to the injured workers.
Also present were Bill Holman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Baton Rouge General Hospital; Dr. Flip Roberts, Chief Medical Officer; Dr. Evelyn Hayes, Vice Chairman of the Board of Trustees; Anna Cazes, a Filipino-American who is Chief Nursing Officer; Deputy Consul General Castro; Welfare Officer Saul de Vries; and Assistant Labor Officer Oliver Flores.
In Manila, the Department of Foreign Affairs has made arrangements for the travel to the United States of family members of the injured contract workers. The Office of American Affairs said the Department had issued passports to the family members and has requested the US Embassy to facilitate the issuance of their visas.
Foreign Affairs Assistant Secretary Carlos Sorreta has assured family members of the six victims that the DFA will exert every effort to assist them. He said the families of three of the four injured victims were at the DFA on Monday and were able to talk to Deputy Consul General Castro by phone in New Orleans who assured them that the three Filipino workers are being properly taken care of. ###