NTSB Says High Winds Likely Caused Seacor Power To Capsize

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) met virtually October 18 to discuss its pending report on the April 13, 2021, capsizing of the liftboat Seacor Power off the coast of Louisiana near Port Fourchon. During the meeting, board members detailed the NTSB’s investigation into the accident that claimed the lives of 13 of the 19 personnel aboard the vessel. Members then voted to approve the draft probable cause and draft recommendations stemming from the incident. Board members expect to issue a finalized report within a month.

NTSB members stated that the probable cause of the capsizing was “a loss of stability that occurred when the vessel was struck by severe thunderstorm winds, which exceeded the vessel’s operational wind speed limits.” Contributing factors to the loss of life were the speed at which the Seacor Power capsized and the angle at which it came to rest.

In concluding its meeting on the accident, NTSB members made a point to reiterate past recommendations that the U.S. Coast Guard require all mariners employed on vessels at work along the coast, offshore and in the Great Lakes to wear a personal locator beacon (PLB) “to enhance their chances of survival.”

“Some people even say PLBs take the ‘search’ our of search and rescue,” said board chair Jennifer Homendy.

Incident Summary

The Seacor Power, part of Seacor Marine LLC’s fleet of “jack up” boats, left Port Fourchon around 1:30 p.m. on the day of the accident and set course for an oil and gas lease area east of the mouth of the Mississippi River. In normal conditions, the voyage would have taken about 18 hours. A liftboat, also called a jack up boat, is an oil field service vessel equipped with three or four legs that can be lowered to the seabed. By lowering its legs, the vessel’s hull can be lifted out of the water, similar to an oil platform.

The morning weather forecast for April 13, 2021, called for winds of 9 to 12 knots in that area and 3-foot seas—all well within the operational parameters of the Seacor Power. However, at about 3:30 p.m., a squall passed directly over the Seacor Power. Mariners in the area reported heavy rain, 80- to 90-knot winds and 2- to 4-foot seas at the time of the capsizing. As winds increased, the Seacor Power’s crew tried to lower the liftboat’s legs to the seafloor, in order to anchor the vessel in place while the storm passed. At the same time, the helmsman attempted to turn the vessel into the wind. Before the vessel could come about, it heeled to starboard and capsized.

Persistent 30- to 40-knot winds and seas reaching 10 to 12 feet inhibited search and rescue efforts. Good Samaritan vessels and a Coast Guard cutter responded, pulling six survivors from the wreck and out of the water.

Proposed Findings

The NTSB investigation concluded there were no safety issues—like watertight integrity, crew qualifications or fatigue—that contributed to the incident. In addition, “commercial pressure was not a factor in the captain’s decision to get underway,” the NTSB said in its findings. 

Investigators concluded the captain’s decision to get underway that afternoon was “reasonable,” given the weather forecast from that morning, although they noted that the Seacor Power did not receive the Special Marine Warning issued for the area that day due to the Coast Guard’s New Orleans navigational telex site being down that afternoon. A lack of “low-altitude radar visibility” in the area of the accident also “prevented the National Weather Service office that issued the Special Marine Warning for the casualty site area around the casualty time from identifying and forecasting the surface wind magnitudes that impacted the Seacor Power,” the NTSB said.

The NTSB also found that the Seacor Power was navigating with “trim by the stern” at the time of the accident. That, along with a turn to port, its speed, a shift in cargo and the attempt to lower its legs, “may have contributed to the vessel’s capsizing.”

Besides the weather conditions after the capsizing, which greatly inhibited the search and rescue effort, the NTSB found that issues related to the Seacor Power’s emergency position indicating radio beacon alerts contributed to a delayed response. The mate carried a search and rescue transponder, investigators said, but high seas rendered it ineffective for signaling responding vessels and aircraft.

In its findings, NTSB members noted Safety Recommendation M-17-45, which recommended that mariners be provided personal locator beacons for “enhancing their chances of being rescued.”

Based on its findings, the NTSB issued a total of 11 recommendations: three to the Coast Guard, one to the National Weather Service, one jointly to the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Air Force, two to the Offshore Marine Service Association, three to Seacor Marine, and the previously issued recommendation to the Coast Guard regarding personal locator beacons.

The NTSB originally recommended that the Coast Guard require the use of personal locator beacons following the October 1, 2015, sinking of the El Faro, which was lost at sea with a crew of 33 as it motored through Hurricane Joaquin. The agency reiterated the recommendation just last year in its report on the capsizing of the fishing vessel Scandies Rose in Alaska. That accident, which resulted in five fatalities, occurred December 31, 2019, near Sutwik Island, Alaska.

Given the difficult weather conditions the day the Seacor Power capsized and the fact that it took 46 minutes for emergency responders to verify the vessel’s emergency position indicating radio beacon alerts, Homendy said she believes personal locator beacons could have made a difference.

“Imagine how much faster the response would’ve been if multiple PLB alerts were also coming in from people on board the Seacor Power,” Homendy said. “Imagine how many more survivors there might have been.”