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Texas-based oil workers missing in Gulf of Mexico

Image: Tropical Storm Nate passes near the Yucatan Peninsula on September 8,
Tropical Storm Nate passes near the Yucatan Peninsula in this satellite image taken Thursday.NOAA via Getty Images
/ Source: staff and news service reports

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 (Pemex) said it has two ships searching in the area where the workers called for help Thursday afternoon and left the Trinity II, a "jack-up" structure, on an enclosed life raft.

Geokinetics, a Pemex subcontractor that specializes in seismic studies for the oil and gas industry, said in a statement on its website that it employed some of the workers.

The company said in the statement that high seas had disabled the "jack-up" structure, called a liftboat and contracted from Louisiana-based Trinity Liftboat Services, and the crew was seen boarding the life raft after making the distress call about 12:25 p.m. CDT. It said families of its employees had been notified.

"We're deeply concerned about the incident in the Gulf of Mexico involving our employees and others who had to abandon a disabled liftboat due to conditions brought about by Tropical Storm Nate," said Geokinetics spokeswoman Brenda Taquino. "The safety and rescue of the employees, everyone on the life raft, is a top priority."

The Trinity II was trying to reach the nearby oil port of Dos Bocas when it ran into problems.

Taquino said the company learned Thursday morning that the 94-foot, 185-ton Trinity II was disabled in the Bay of Campeche because of storm conditions. A liftboat can lower legs to the sea floor and then elevate itself above the water level. This one was being used as a recording vessel and housing for the crew, and it was in waters about 25 feet deep.

On board were four crew members who operate the liftboat as well as three contractors and three employees of Geokinetics, which specializes in seismic studies for the oil and gas industry. They were made up of four Americans, four Mexicans, one from Kazakhstan and a 10th worker of unconfirmed nationally, said an official at the port of Dos Bocas, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to talk to journalists.

He said Pemex and Mexican navy rescue crews were also working along the beaches in nearby Frontera, the closest port to where the men evacuated the liftboat, because high winds and unrelenting rain made it too difficult to venture out to sea.

A person who answered the phone at Trinity Liftboat Services told that there was no further information.

The Pemex communications office said Friday that its boats had reached the area about 8 miles off the southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco but it couldn't say what weather conditions were like.

Taquino said the life raft is a sealed capsule that contains enough food and water to last for several days, but there is no way to communicate with it.

"Visibility is not that great," she said.

Two additional vessels are monitoring the Trinity II because it cannot be secured due to high seas, and a helicopter was sent out, Taquino said.

Tropical Storm Nate was drifting slowly west-southwestward over the southern Gulf Friday with maximum sustained winds of near 50 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was centered about 150 miles west of Campeche. Forecasters said it was expected to resume a northwestward path later Friday and hit Mexico's Gulf Coast Sunday or Monday.

A hurricane watch was declared from Tampico to Veracruz.

Gulf of Mexico ports were closed to navigation Friday and preparation were under way 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 Friday were near 45 mph, with some slight strengthening possible, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami and it was moving toward the west-northwest near 14 mph.

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.

On its current forecast track, Maria's center would reach the Leeward Islands early Saturday and be near the Virgin Islands by Saturday night, the hurricane center said.

Also in the Atlantic, Hurricane Katia was moving northeast over open water after passing between the U.S. and Bermuda. Despite not hitting land, the hurricane center said large swells generated by the Category 1 storm will continue affecting the U.S. East Coast and Bermuda.

Katia was centered midway between Bermuda and Nova Scotia and was moving northeast near 29 mph (46 kph). It had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph). The long-term forecast indicated it could reach Scotland as a storm on Monday.

The Associated Press, Reuters and staff contributed to this report.