• Pemex’s fatalities surpasses the 132 deaths reported by the whole U.S. meat and poultry industry
  • Social distancing is difficult to achieve on offshore oil platforms
  • Last year, Pemex reported 10 worker deaths

Petróleos Mexicanos, the Mexican state-owned petroleum company, has lost more than 200 of its employees to the coronavirus pandemic.

Pemex, as the company is widely known, said on Tuesday that 202 workers and five contractors have died of the virus so far, the highest known death toll of any company, Bloomberg reported.

Pemex’s body count exceeds the 131 workers of the New York Metropolitan Transport Authority who have succumbed to the disease. Pemex’s fatalities also surpasses the 132 deaths reported by the whole U.S. meat and poultry industry as of July 14.

Bloomberg speculated that one factor behind Pemex’s heavy losses may be linked to the fact that social distancing is difficult to achieve on offshore oil platforms.

Silvia Ramos Luna, the general secretary of the National Union of Petroleum Technicians and Professionals, suggested Pemex may have delayed implementing protective measures for its employees. She also said that many workers already suffered from pre-existing health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension, which might have hastened their demises.

The company has asserted that it has sanitized worksites and evacuated some workers from offshore platforms when necessary, while adopting stricter safety protocols.

Wilbur Matthews, founder of Vaquero Global Investment which trades in Pemex bonds, said the number of deaths at the oil giant is “not like a normal metric that you look at when you evaluate either the credit or the equity value of a company, but it’s horrible.”

Last year, Pemex reported 10 worker deaths, five times as many as Brazilian state-run oil company Petrobras.

Pemex also operates a large network of medical facilities including 21 hospitals for workers, their relatives and retirees. But at least eight patients have died at a Pemex hospital after receiving contaminated heparin medication during hemodialysis treatments.

Pemex had almost 126,000 employees at the end of last year and usually houses hundreds of workers on offshore platforms at any given time. These employees live, eat and sleep in close quarters.

“The biggest problems have been on the platforms, for obvious reasons,” said Ramos Luna.

The pandemic has also cut a swathe through mainland Mexico, which now has the world’s fourth highest COVID-19 death toll.

However, Pemex has been lauded for its transparency in detailing deaths of its workers, (something most other global oil giants do not do) and for testing employees for the virus.

“It’s really good that they actually do release this kind of data,” said Duncan Wood, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute in Washington D.C.

But “even in a privileged health-care system like Pemex’s, they’re still only testing a tiny percentage of the overall [Mexican] population,” Wood added. “For Pemex workers, it matters if people are going out to the rigs or working in close proximity at oil fields onshore. Then you really do have to take some preventative measures.”

An op-ed in pointed out that Pemex has other problems.

“With the arrival of the novel coronavirus, Pemex was slower than industry peers to announce big cuts in capital expenditure, and Mexico held out against bigger OPEC-led output cuts, as [Mexican President Andrés Manuel] Lopez Obrador clung to his vision of boosting Pemex production.”

The op-ed added: “The COVID-19 headwinds have exposed the fault lines in this strategy. Pemex now has net debt of more than $100 billion and has suffered a 60% drop in sales. Another massive quarterly loss is almost a certainty.”