NTSB Releases Preliminary Report On Capsizing Of Liftboat Seacor Power

Just over a month after the liftboat Seacor Power capsized off the Louisiana coast with 19 personnel on board, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released a preliminary report that offers a more detailed picture of what happened that day.

The vessel capsized the afternoon of April 13. Of the 19 personnel on board—which included nine vessel crew members, two galley staff and eight oilfield workers—six were rescued by good Samaritan and Coast Guard mariners. The bodies of six others have been recovered so far, while seven crew members remain missing.

According to the NTSB report, which was released May 18, the Seacor Power, part of Seacor Marine LLC’s fleet of “jack up” boats, left Louisiana’s offshore energy port, Port Fourchon, at about 1:30 p.m. the day of the accident, bound for an oil and gas lease area on the east side of the Mississippi River delta. Under normal circumstances, that voyage would take about 18 hours. A liftboat, also called a jack up boat, is an oil field service vessel with three or four legs that can be lowered to the sea floor, thus lifting the vessel’s hull out of the water, similar to an oil platform.

The NTSB said that a weather forecast sent to the vessel at about 7 a.m. called for winds of 9 to 12 knots and 3-foot seas. According to Seacor Marine President John Gellert, that forecast was within the operational parameters of the Seacor Power.

“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 said during a press conference April 19.

A squall passed over the Seacor Power at about 3:30 p.m. with, according to reports from mariners in the area at the time, 80-knot winds and building seas.

“Visibility dropped, and the winds increased significantly,” the NTSB report stated, “so crew decided to lower the Seacor Power’s legs to the seafloor to hold the vessel in position until the storm passed. When the legs began to descend, the crew member at the helm attempted to turn the vessel into the winds.

“Before the turn was completed, the Seacor Power heeled to starboard and capsized,” the report said.

Speaking at the April 19 press conference, Gellert noted that about 5 feet of the Seacor Power’s legs had been “retracted from the hull, which leads us to believe the captain was trying to jack down on position for safety.” The vessel was in about 60 feet of water, so it would have taken about 12 minutes to fully jack up the boat, according to Gellert.

Several people aboard the Seacor Power were able to climb onto the port side of the vessel’s deck house. Several good Samaritan vessels, along with a not-yet-commissioned Coast Guard cutter nearby, responded, saving six personnel. Persistent high wind and 10- to 12-foot seas hampered rescue efforts. Search and rescue efforts continued until sundown April 19, though volunteer and private recovery teams continued to search the area after that. Seacor’s salvage contractors are continuing salvage work at the vessel.

“While on scene, investigators collected documentation and interviewed survivors, other personnel who had crewed the vessel, owner and charterer representatives, vessel inspectors and surveyors and search and rescue responders,” the preliminary NTSB report stated. “Investigators intend to return to the scene when the Seacor Power is salvaged to inspect the vessel and collect further evidence.”

The NTSB is the lead agency looking into the incident, with the Coast Guard, Seacor Marine, the National Weather Service and the American Bureau of Shipping contributing to the investigation.

Drew Ehlers, NTSB’s investigator in charge of the incident, has said the agency’s final report will likely take one to two years to complete.