Early in the afternoon on April 13, 2021, the Captain of the liftboat SEACOR Power made the fateful decision to set out from Port Fourchon, Louisiana toward an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. He was sailing a crew of 19 into a severe storm with heavy rain and wind and 2-4 foot waves that caused the vessel to capsize. Only six crew members survived.
Decision to Sail into Storm Not Based on Commercial Pressure
While some expressed concern that Captain David Ledet took the vessel out in dangerous conditions in response to commercial pressure, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded that the decision to set out was made based on reasonable conclusions drawn from the weather information available to the captain at the time.
The problem was that the information was not updated as it should have been. The U.S. Coast Guard’s navigational telex broadcasting site was out of commission, so the crew never received warnings of the severe storm approaching them.
The Crew Needed Time to Raise the Boat
The Seacor Power was a specialized vessel with three massive legs that could be dropped to sea floor to turn the vessel into an offshore platform. This type of vessel is known as a lift boat or jackup barge. The vessel travels with the enormous legs in the air and when it reaches a destination alongside an offshore oil platform, the crew lowers the legs to provide stability.
If the crew of the SEACOR Power had received storm warnings in time, they could have lowered the legs and raised the vessel to a safe location above the waves. The attorney for the Captain’s family said that it would only have taken ten minutes to jack the boat into a stable position.
At the time the vessel capsized, the crew had initiated the process of lowering the legs to the sea floor and the mate turned the vessel into the wind to reduce speed. But the turn caused the vessel to heel over and capsize. The NTSB concluded that the winds of the storm exceeded the lift boat’s operational wind speed limits.
Problems with Rescue Efforts
The speed of the capsizing and the angle at which the vessel came to rest made it difficult for crew members to escape and those that did get out could not easily be located and rescued in the storm. Crew members had not been provided with personal locator beacons. In addition, a dispatcher from SEACOR Marine gave the Coast Guard faulty information about the location of the vessel, which delayed the start of search and rescue operations.
In the report on the disaster, the NTSB reiterated its call for personal locator beacons to be made mandatory. In addition, the NTSB recommended that the Coast Guard develop procedures to inform mariners of weather equipment outages, modify regulations to make lift boats more stable, and integrate commercial, municipal, and non-profit rescue providers into mass rescue operations plans.
Help for Mariners and Their Families
The loss of 13 crew members is a tragedy that could potentially have been averted with the right procedures and equipment. In many cases, poor decisions are made in an attempt to save money, putting the lives of mariners at unnecessary risk.
The team at Latti & Anderson, LLP fights for the rights of injured maritime workers, passengers, and their families. If you or a loved one suffered injury or death at sea, we can explain your options for relief during a free case review. Contact us today to learn more.