Robot subs attempt to shut off oil leak

Engineers from the British oil giant BP were yesterday racing to avert an environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico as crude continued to leak at the site of the submerged oil rig Deepwater Horizon, which exploded and collapsed a week ago.

Up to 42,000 gallons of oil a day is spewing from a crumpled pipeline and uncapped well nearly a mile below the ocean's surface, about 40 miles off the Louisiana coast.

Efforts to stop it rest in part on robot submersibles but BP officials said the task was "highly complex" and might not succeed. Surface operations by aircraft and ships to break up a thin slick that has grown to about 600 square miles were postponed by bad weather.

It was feared that a change of wind direction might push the oil towards land. "We're in a very serious situation," said Rear-Admiral Mary Landry, of the US Coast Guard. "Forty-five to 90 days is the initial estimate ... before this well could be secured." A search for 11 missing workers from the rig was called off on Friday.