The Coast Guard has suspended search and rescue operations for the remaining Seacor Power crew.
The Seacor Power lift boat capsized eight miles south of Port Fourchon on April 13 with a crew of 19 people. The commercial vessel encountered hurricane-force winds and turbulent seas while en route to an oil rig near the mouth of the Mississippi River.
Six people were rescued alive that day, and five bodies have been recovered in the days since, including one found on Sunday. That leaves eight crew members still missing in a mission that has shifted from search-and-rescue to recovery.
“This does not mean that the case is closed,” sector commander Capt. Will Watson said at a press conference Monday afternoon. “At any time we might receive new information that would compel us to resume the search. But with that said, our focus now will begin to shift.”
The National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) will now begin investigating the incident to understand what went wrong on April 13. NTSB accident investigator Andrew Ehlers will lead the investigation.
“People really are at the heart of what we do, and it’s why we focus on getting the answers right,” Ehlers said, noting that the investigation would hopefully “prevent an accident like this [from] happening again.”
The investigation will look into three things: the people involved at sea and onshore, the vessel and equipment involved, and the weather conditions.
“That’s really where we’re starting,” Ehlers said. “We’re focusing on the weather.”
The NTSB will work with an array of experts and agencies during the course of the investigation, including the Coast Guard, the National Weather Service, Seacor Marine, and the American Bureau of Shipping. Ehlers said the investigation could take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to complete.
Seacor Marine president John Gellert extended his thoughts and prayers to the families whose loved ones died in the wreckage or remain missing, and said he had just come from a meeting with those family members.
“It’s very emotional. Families continue to have hope and prayers. And we’d like everyone to continue their thoughts and prayers for the families of those still missing.”
The search for the remaining eight crew members will now be in the hands of the salvage crew contracted by Seacor Marine. Gellert said there are currently 17 scuba divers working to explore the submerged vessel, and that search will continue around the clock as long as weather conditions allow.
Divers had searched about half of the vessel by Monday afternoon.
Gellert said Seacor Marine would cooperate fully with authorities as they investigate the incident.
When asked why the vessel was in transit despite the marine warnings in place due to forecasted bad weather, Gellert said the decision to leave port resides with the captain of the vessel, and emphasized that the weather conditions were worse than forecast.
“The weather they were forecast to encounter was well within the limits of the vessel, and the weather that they encountered was well beyond the forecast as far as we know,” Gellert said.
Seacor Power is a special kind of vessel known as a “lift boat.” It’s used to service oil and gas wells in deepwater, and is equipped with three large legs that can be extended to the seafloor to stabilize the boat while working on rigs.
Generally speaking, Gellert said, that vessel is at its most stable when the legs are extended to the floor and the hull is lifted out of the water. Based on early observations Gellert said it appears legs were extended slightly just before the Seacor Power capsized, leading him to believe the ship’s captain may have been attempting to extend them as a last-ditch effort to find stability in the rough waters.
Gellert said it would have taken just 12 minutes for the legs to reach the bottom if it had not capsized.
The NTSB is looking for help during its investigation and wants to hear from anyone who might have been on the water near the Seacor Power on April 13 before it capsized, and is also looking to speak to anyone who has previously worked on the vessel. Anyone with information can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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