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By Amy Stillman (Bloomberg) –Petroleos Mexicanos, which has one of the world’s highest employee death tolls from Covid-19, is no longer distributing rapid tests for the virus to workers before they board platforms as the debt-laden producer ramps up output.
Four workers who have boarded the Abkatun-Alfa and Pol-Alfa platforms in the Gulf of Mexico since the start of October said the Mexican state-owned company did not provide them or their colleagues with rapid diagnostic testing for the deadly coronavirus. The number of personnel on the platforms is close to normal capacity, the workers said.
“I demanded a Covid test before boarding the platform and I was told that there were none available,” said Jorge Luis Rios Robles, a production electronics supervisor on Abkatun-Alfa. “We were a group of 20 workers, and all they gave us was a questionnaire asking whether we had a fever, pain of some kind or loss of appetite, and that was it.”
Offshore installations have been a locus of infection at Pemex, which as of Monday reported 350 employees and eight contractors have died from Covid-19 complications. The platforms house hundred of workers in packed dining halls and shared sleeping quarters, creating conditions that allow the virus to spread more easily.
While the virus continues to extract a heavy toll on its workforce, Pemex is under major financial strain and political pressure to reverse 15 years of output declines and chip away at a debt pile that’s the highest of any major oil company. That makes it difficult for Pemex to reduce the number of personnel. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said in September the virus had negatively affected production. In August, a huge floating Pemex oil processing and storage facility off the coast of Campeche state halted operations for six days because of an outbreak.
A Pemex spokeswoman didn’t respond to a request for comment on whether testing had stopped at its platforms and if they were operating near normal capacity. Because Pemex does the bulk of its testing at its vast hospital network and publishes statistics on Covid-19 cases and deaths on a daily basis, the data isn’t likely to be affected by a change in screening procedures on the platforms.
As of early September, Pemex had reported the most coronavirus-related deaths of any company in the world tracked by Bloomberg.
Rios Robles worked on the Abkatun-Alfa platform from October 29 to November 4. During that time, it was operating with more than 320 workers on board, roughly 20% fewer than normal, he said. Robles said he slept in a dorm room with five other people and ate in an unventilated dining room with more than two dozen other workers.
Tomas Morales Vega, a mechanical integrity engineer at Pol-Alfa, said that some workers arriving from Ciudad del Carmen were still being tested, but that at the port of Dos Bocas, testing had stopped since the beginning of October. “The platforms are still being sanitized, but there’s less testing and the number of workers onboard is rising,” he said. When Morales was last on the platform from October 22 to November 6, it was operating at about 70% capacity, he said.
Pemex has said that it put into effect an emergency plan to combat Covid-19 on offshore platforms as early as March, and that the company was conducting rapid diagnostic testing. Yet platform workers previously told Bloomberg that Pemex was slow to sanitize working and living spaces, reduce the number of personnel, evacuate sick employees, and provide diagnostic tests for Covid-19 before people boarded.
Another offshore worker who had contracted Covid-19 in April was told by Pemex that workers who already had the virus didn’t need to be tested. The person, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals from the company, boarded a Pemex platform last month with a dozen other workers, none of whom were given tests.
© 2020 Bloomberg L.P
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