HOUMA, La. (KLFY) The final voyage of the Seacor Power ended in tragedy, and four months later we are getting the answers as to what may have caused 13 men to lose their lives.
The chain of tragic reveals continued from the first week to the final week with almost every person sharing devastating news.
Monday’s testimonies started with the National Weather Service. The United States Coast Guard panel chairwoman Captain Tracy Phillips questioned a lead forecaster for the New Orleans/Baton Rouge who was supervising April 13.
“Did you personally have any concerns about the weather that day?”, she asked.
“Oh yeah, absolutely,” Lead Forecaster Phillip Grigsby answered. “We were basically rolling immediately into severe weather operations mode.”
By 9 A.M on his shift, a severe thunderstorm with strong winds and hail hit Baton Rouge. The south side of that system spun off a line of storms at noon prompting National Weather Service warnings in Lake Ponchetrain, New Orleans, and between 12:08 P.M. and 2:27 P.M. three separate special marine warnings in the Seacor Power’s voyage area.
They warned of waves above the liftboat’s travel capabilities and the possibility of capsizing, but according to the Coast Guard Communications Commanding Officer, the awareness of the crew was limited.
Due to the Coast Guard’s internet connectivity, no weather alerts were sent to the ship’s Navtech system between noon and 4:23 P.M. Within that time window, the Seacor Power had taken off and capsized.
USCG COMMCEN Commanding Officer Commander Vince Taylor explained, “We have one of these issues maybe once a year and it’s very limited in the outage timeframe. It just happened to be that this is the day.”
There are other ways to see special marine warnings including mobile alerts or checking the National Weather Service website. The owners of the vessel, Seacor Marine, said they relied solely on their contracted forecasts.
Seacor Operations Manager Paul Fremin testified, “All forecasts pretty much read the same as the morning report one which was 3-4 foot seas & 15-20 knot winds.”
But waves above 10 feet and winds topping at 112 miles per hour sank the Seacor Power. The vessel owner’s dispatch center was the first asked if the liftboat was in distress, but according to earlier testimony, dispatch told Coast Guard the Seacor Power was still at the dock.
When asked if dispatchers had the ability to know where vessels are, Seacor’s General Manager for the Gulf of Mexico Joey Ruiz answered, “They may have that ability, but that isn’t their responsibility.”
About an hour after capsizing, the boat charterer, Talos Energy, heard the Seacor Power may have capsized and sent the nearest other vessels they had chartered to check. After rescuing some crew, both ships had to leave due to sea conditions damaging their engines.
“At that point, I did everything that I could,” Talos Logistics Manager Michael Boudreaux argued.
However, Talos does have a contract with Bristow Helicopters for medical evacuation, and two air rescuers with the company testified they got word of the disaster from a different company not at five but closer to 7 P.M. that first night.
Reaching out would have been Boudreaux’s call, and he admitted, “To be honest, the day of the event everyone was telling me hurricane-force winds, 10-to-12-foot seas, so my first response or initial thought was search and rescue on the water.”
Diving and salvage company Don Jon SMIT reached out to Seacor Marine the evening of the capsizing, and Talos Energy offered a diving vessel which divers rejected because it did not have a backup system to maintain a position without anchoring.
A second ship was acquired the following morning, but Designated Person Ashore Michael Cenac said the lost time did not make a difference because Coast Guard issued a stand-down for search and rescue due to weather conditions still being too rough.
Cenac said, “Even if you would have had a dive plan approved the moment it happened, the weather conditions would not have allowed them to dive.”
Divers made it to the vessel two days after the capsizing. On April 15, they heard no response banging on the hull. Eventually, deceased crewmen were found aboard.
Friday, two naval architects testified, sharing their expertise on the engineering and regulations of the ship. Jaideep Sirkar, a naval architect with the U.S. Coast Guard, mentioned that his team is studying a discrepancy with the ship. The board asked him if the study is a result of the accident.
“It did not come as a result of this accident. We had been considering this for quite some time. This was a known issue, once we started looking at certain types of whole-forms that did not neatly fit within the construct of the regulations,” said Sirkar.
The final few witnesses answered questions on the regulations and capabilities of liftboats. It’s part of the hearings’ second purpose to make recommendations that will hopefully prevent a similar tragedy from happening again. USCG estimates the process will take months.