Coast Guard Suspends Search-And-Rescue Efforts At Seacor Power, Recovery Ongoing
At sundown April 19, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended search-and-rescue efforts at the liftboat Seacor Power, the vessel that capsized April 13 in the Gulf of Mexico just south of Port Fourchon, on the central Louisiana coast.
There were 19 people aboard the vessel when it capsized in rough seas and high winds. Six of them survived and were pulled from the water in the immediate aftermath. As of April 22, the bodies of six additional crew members had been recovered, with seven yet unaccounted for.
Just before an April 19 press conference held in Cutoff, La., representatives from Seacor Marine (the owner of the liftboat), the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) met with family members of those who perished aboard the Seacor Power when the vessel overturned.
Will Watson, commander of Coast Guard Sector New Orleans, said the meeting with family members was an emotional one marked by many tears and hugs. He said he offered them his continued thoughts and prayers, while also committing to the ongoing effort to conduct a rigorous investigation.
“Please know that the Coast Guard will work very hard in the days ahead, weeks ahead, months ahead with the NTSB to figure out what happened, so that, hopefully, we can learn some lessons that will help us to prevent this from ever happening again,” Watson said.
Drew Ehlers, NTSB’s investigator in charge of the Seacor Power incident, said his team will look at three main factors in connection with the accident.
“The first is the people involved, both at sea and ashore,” Ehlers said. “We’re going to be looking at the vessel and equipment. And also, we’ll be looking at the conditions that were there on the day of the accident.”
Ehlers said his team has already been in talks with representatives of the National Weather Service to ascertain weather forecasts and actual conditions at the site of the accident. He said NTSB will also work closely with Seacor Marine, the Coast Guard and the American Bureau of Shipping during its investigation.
“People have asked me what they can do to help,” Ehlers said. “We know folks were out on the water that day and may have seen something. We know folks experienced the weather out there. We would like to hear from them. We also would like to hear from folks who have served on that vessel before and who could share photos and video.”
Ehlers asked that anyone with information reach out to the NTSB by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John Gellert, president of Seacor Marine, spoke at length at the press conference, offering clarity on the decision for the vessel to depart Port Fourchon on the afternoon of April 13.
“The go, no-go decision is entirely the captain’s,” Gellert said. “The captain can rely on us, everyone ashore, or weather reports for advice, but ultimately it’s his decision. I’m not going to speculate on what the weather conditions he encountered were.
“The captain had 50 years of experience,” Gellert added. “He was a very veteran captain, almost all of the 50 years on liftboats. He was one of our best captains and was very prudent and conservative. We are very confident that he would not have gone out if he had any doubt whatsoever.”
The captain aboard the Seacor Power was David Ledet, a native of Galliano, La., and current resident of nearby Thibodaux. He was 63 years old.
The vessel was under contract to Talos Energy on a multi-month mission to do “well workover, well decommissioning and some plug and abandonment” on a platform east of the mouth of the Mississippi River, Gellert said. Half of those on board were contractors, with the other half crew members of the Seacor Power. Officials from both Talos Energy and Port Fourchon have stated publicly that neither agency had anything to do with the decision for the Seacor Power to depart that day. Gellert reiterated that fact.
“The vessel is owned by Seacor Marine,” Gellert said. “It was under the control of Seacor Marine. [The captain] had our support for his decision to sail. The weather they were forecast to encounter was well within the limits of the vessel, and the weather they ultimately encountered was well beyond the forecast, as far as we know at this time.”
Gellert did provide a detail that, he suggested, may point to a sudden change in the weather conditions that day.
“The legs were fully retracted for the commencement of the voyage,” Gellert said. “As far as we can make out, there was about five feet of leg that was retracted from the hull, which leads us to believe the captain was trying to jack down on position for safety.”
The vessel was capable of extending its legs at a rate of five feet per minute. In 60 feet of water, that would’ve taken about 12 minutes, Gellert said.
It will likely take quite some time for officials to announce the likely cause of the incident. Ehlers with NTSB said his agency’s investigation will likely take one to two years to complete.
The salvage contractors on the scene include Donjon-SMIT, with Phoenix International of Maryland providing diving services. Louisiana-based seaplanes and private vessels were also continuing recovery efforts near the Seacor Power.