(KLFY) – The body of Captain David Ledet was the first to be found after a lift boat he was piloting capsized in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2021. In the following days, five more bodies were pulled from the water. Seven others – never found, but presumed dead. Of the 19 crew aboard Seacor Power on April 13, 2021, only six returned home after setting sail for work on an oil rig they never reached.
The oil and gas industry is big business in Louisiana. Thousands of people work offshore on oil rigs for days or weeks at a time, extracting mineral resources from the seabed. Lift boats often serve these platforms for maintenance, construction or delivery of materials.
The Seacor Power was contracted by Talos Energy, an oil and gas producer, to bring men and cargo to an oil well in the Gulf of Mexico to clean it before use. The lift boat and its 19-man crew set sail on choppy waters.
The boat traveled a short distance off the Louisiana coast – about eight miles from Port Fourchon – before capsizing due to a severe weather phenomenon called a wake low, which brought winds of 70 to 80 mph and very rough seas.
Weather and its effect on search and rescue operations
Throughout the day, severe weather had battered the Louisiana coast. Between 12:08 p.m. and 2:27 p.m., the National Weather Service (NWS) had issued three separate special marine warnings in Seacor Power’s travel area due to weather conditions. The NWS had warned of winds that could cause the lift boat to capsize.
However, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) said it never received these alerts. They said their internet connectivity with Verizon was faulty and no weather alerts were sent to the ships’ navigation systems between noon and 4:23 p.m. that day. The Coast Guard also said it was receiving misinformation about the details surrounding the Seacor Power accident.
Seacor Power’s first emergency radio beacon was triggered at 3:40 p.m., but no location was triggered at first. USCG Sector 8 watch commander Brandon Critchfield called Seacor Dispatch to make sure it wasn’t an accident. He was told the lift boat hadn’t even left the dock.
A total of five emergency beacons were triggered in that same 15-minute window by various other vessels, so the Coast Guard directed its attention elsewhere and asked Seacor Marine to call them back. Half an hour later the truth of a capsized vessel came from reports, the location of the beacon and a return call from Seacor Marine.
Search and rescue operations began within minutes, but inclement weather diverted planes in New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama. on the ship, the Coast Guard had to back off due to the severe weather conditions, so as not to lose any members of their rescue team after one fell in the water and then had to be picked up .
Dwayne Lewis, a Vermilion Parish native and Seacor Power survivor, remembers jumping out of bed when the Seacor Power started rolling back and forth. The ceiling and the floor became walls as a wall became a floor under it.
Coast Guard officials said they did not receive the correct information about the number of people aboard the Seacor Power. They were first told there were seven crew members, then 17, then 18. It was not until the next morning that they learned the exact number of 19.
The Coast Guard finally made the decision to halt its search and rescue efforts for Seacor Power’s crew on April 19, after devoting more than 175 hours to its efforts and covering 9,268 square nautical miles.
Grassroots research efforts
A Louisiana-based nonprofit, the United Cajun Navy (UCN), joined the search efforts the day before theirs were suspended by the USCG. Volunteers from across southern Louisiana supported their efforts. Their help has focused on fundraising for search efforts, organizing seaplanes, using social media platforms to obtain needed resources, collecting supplies and coordinating search efforts, they said.
UCN suspended search efforts on May 2 after being involved in the search for exactly two weeks. The organization said it was usually involved in similar research for about two weeks and discussed helping with this case for longer, but eventually backed out after “a whirlwind of accusations, untruths and finger pointing as efforts should still be aimed at bringing the seven remaining Seacor crew home,” they said in a detailed Facebook post about their downside of the search.
A new non-profit organization, Gulfcoast Humanitarian Efforts, has been set up by family members of Seacor Power crew members and volunteers to continue search efforts after the UCN suspended theirs.
Grassroots research efforts continued for some time, eventually dwindling when money and resources ran out.
The resistance of families
Families of Seacor Power victims have begun to seek justice for their loved ones. Many of them have sued for wrongful death. At least nine civil lawsuits have been filed regarding the incident. A family has sued Seacor Marine, Talos Energy and Semco, the lift boat maker, claiming the company put profits before the safety and lives of crew members. Additionally, two of the six survivors filed charges after barely escaping the capsized boat and then drifting in the gulf for hours before being rescued.
Families were also unhappy with the communication, or lack of communication, they received regarding search and rescue and rescue operations. In June, it was revealed that the lift boat was still in the same spot where it had capsized. When severe weather hit the recovery area between May 18 and 25, the wreck rolled over and its legs broke. As the boat was no longer intact, it was exposed to wildlife and ocean currents, altering plans for rescue operations and a search for any other possible bodies. Family members said they weren’t told until weeks later, with many finding out via social media that the boat had capsized. They feared that if there were any bodies in that part of the ship, they would be swept away or buried and never found.
Louisiana lawmakers said they understood the families’ concern and began to get involved in any way they could, calling for public investigative hearings and introducing bills. US Representative Clay Higgins even visited the scene of the accident and was briefed by the Coast Guard a few weeks after the incident. Congressional hearings have yet to take place and the bills have made no movement since their introduction.
The bills are companion bills that were introduced in Congress by Senator John Kennedy and Representative Higgins. The bill is called the Vessel Response Improvement Act, and it would require commercial ship companies to give families updates twice a day during a search and rescue. The Coast Guard would be required to do the same. The bill is still in the first stage of the legislative process and there is only a 3% chance of it becoming law, according to Skopos Labs.
The possibility of closure, buried
Weather again disrupted rescue plans when Hurricane Ida hit the Gulf on August 26. The trenches dug around the boat to extract it ended up being completely filled with sediment stirred up by Ida. Scott Daspit, the father of crew member Dylan Daspit, still missing, told News 10 in October that Donjon-SMIT, the company in charge of salvage operations, switched to salvaging boats damaged by Ida and left what was left of Seacor Power where it was. .
The Seacor Power was separated into several pieces. Parts of the boat were pulled out of the water, but the rest was buried in mud and sediment when Ida struck. After that, Seacor Marine decided to suspend salvage operations. The separate rooms described were bow, stern and accommodation. The room that was buried in the gulf was the living quarters, and it remains there to this day. There are currently no plans to salvage this part of the boat.
After a year, not much beyond what happened in the two weeks after the capsizing of the Seacor Power. Families are still without answers regarding their lost loved ones, reforms still need to be made to prevent something similar from happening again, and the possibility of a shutdown remains buried under the seabed.
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