Crewman lost as boat working with seismic research vessel capsizes

An offshore crewman was killed when a small workboat capsized while carrying personnel between two seismic research ships in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Coast Guard said his personal flotation device may not have inflated properly.

The 26-foot vessel capsized in 4- to 6-foot seas while carrying four people between a pair of 295-foot research ships, Western Monarch and Western Neptune. Crew from Western Monarch immediately rescued three people, the Coast Guard said. A fourth disappeared into the sea and is presumed dead.

The accident happened at about 0930 on March 17, in the Mississippi Canyon area 30 miles south of Southwest Pass. Paul Barnard, a U.S. Coast Guard search and rescue coordinator at New Orleans, said at least three Coast Guard vessels, a helicopter and an airplane responded to search. They found only the missing man’s EPIRB and life rings that had been tossed from Western Neptune.

“The eyewitness account said it did not appear that the inflatable PFD inflated completely, and he was described as a very large man," Barnard said. “He was last seen swimming toward an equipment buoy. He went behind a wave, and as the next one came through they didn’t see him again."

Western Monarch and Western Neptune are owned and operated by WesternGeco, a U.K.-based division of the oil service company Schlumberger Ltd., based in Paris and Houston.

“The small craft transferring the workers was positioned alongside the Neptune at the time of the incident," said Schlumberger spokesman Stephen Harris. “The small craft was piloted by a WesternGeco employee."

The Coast Guard said the small boat was launched from the nearby 221-foot Geco Snapper. Snapper is owned by Edison Chouest Offshore and was under long-term charter to WesternGeco, Harris said.

The victim’s name was never released. Petty Officer Tom Atkeson, a Coast Guard spokesman, said he was a 50-year-old man from Lafourche Parish, La. He was wearing an orange jumpsuit and the flotation device. Harris said the man was an employee of Edison Chouest. Two of the rescued victims were WesternGeco employees and one was from Edison Chouest.

Edison Chouest didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Winds were out of the north-northeast at 15 to 20 knots. Neptune was making 2 or 3 knots of headway at the time of the attempted transfer. Barnard said 6-foot waves can cause problems for a small vessel alongside a larger one.

“Rebound waves bouncing back off the vessel you’re approaching can destabilize the small vessel," Barnard said. “You can have confused seas that can potentially capsize the boat."

In April the Coast Guard was still probing the cause of the accident. Harris said WesternGeco also was still investigating.

By Professional Mariner Staff