Facing an unexpectedly strong storm, crew aboard the lift boat SEACOR Power began lowering the vessel’s retractable legs in an effort to ride out the weather.
Moments later, the 234-foot vessel rolled over as the helmsman turned into the wind, according to preliminary report on the April 13 capsizing in the Gulf of Mexico.
“Before the turn was completed, SEACOR Power heeled to starboard and capsized,” the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said. “Several personnel were able to escape out onto the exposed port side of the SEACOR Power deckhouse.”
Six people died in the incident and seven are missing and presumed dead. “Some who had been clinging to the vessel were washed into the water, and six were eventually rescued,” the report continued, describing a massive search and rescue effort that involved nearby good Samaritan vessels and the U.S. Coast Guard. “One survivor suffered a serious injury.”
SEACOR Power departed Port Fourchon, La., at about 1330 with nine crew, two galley workers and eight offshore oil workers on board, the NTSB said. The vessel was headed to a Talos Energy platform in Main Pass Block 138, located east of the Mississippi River. Such a voyage normally would take 18 hours at 4 knots.
The ship received a weather forecast at 0702 that morning calling for 9- to 12-knot winds with 3-foot seas for that afternoon — conditions that were well within SEACOR Power’s operating parameters. The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm watch for Port Fourchon and surrounding areas at 1206, and at 1427 the service warned of thunderstorms and strong winds offshore. It is unclear if the ship or its crew received these or other updated forecasts before departing.
Actual conditions were substantially worse than those projected in the 0702 report. A rain squall passed over the vessel at about 1330. As the squall moved out, visibility fell, winds picked up sharply and seas became volatile. A weather phenomenon known as a wake low generated winds exceeding 80 knots, with seas reaching 12 feet.
SEACOR Power’s retractable legs had just started to descend when the ship capsized, the report said. Accounts from survivors reported in local media suggest crew had no warning of the impending danger.
Capt. David Ledet, 63, of Thibodeau, La., was one of the six people whose bodies have been found. A lawsuit filed on behalf of his widow alleges SEACOR Power left port “under the direction and control” of SEACOR Marine and Talos Energy.
Despite warnings about the weather, the suit alleges the defendants “put their profits over the safety and lives of their employees and crewmembers and ordered SEACOR Power to leave Port Fourchon en route to a Talos Energy LLC drilling site east of Venice, La.”
Numerous other lawsuits have been filed by survivors of the incident and families of those who died. SEACOR has filed suit to limit liability from the incident. SEACOR and Talos did not respond to an inquiry about the ongoing lawsuits.
The Coast Guard suspended the search and rescue campaign on April 19. Soon afterward, salvage crews led by Donjon-SMIT began efforts to remove the partially submerged vessel.
Workers used a method known as hot tapping to cut holes into tanks to remove remaining fuel. Crews pumped out nearly 20,000 gallons of diesel using this process, the Coast Guard said. Another 4,500 gallons of hydraulic fluid will be removed after the vessel is raised.
In mid-June, salvage crews reported the wreck remained in its original location but had rotated on the seafloor. They also determined the vessel is cracking and the superstructure is separating from the hull.
“As a result,” the Coast Guard said in a salvage update, “the vessel will have to be raised to the surface and brought to shore in separate sections.”
Donjon-SMIT intends to lower a submersible barge under large sections of the wreck and then pump out water to bring the barge, and that section, to the surface. This method will help preserve the structural integrity of each section, the Coast Guard said.
The Coast Guard expects the largest sections of the wreck will be removed by July 1, although weather could delay the work. New changes in the ship’s structural condition also could affect that time line.
A Coast Guard spokesman in New Orleans referred inquiries about the salvage to Donjon-SMIT, which did not respond to an inquiry.
The NTSB and other agencies are continuing to investigate the sinking. The final report explaining what caused the incident likely will not be available for a year or more.