Fire, Fire, Fire: How Navy Failures Destroyed the Bonhomme Richard
By CW4 Michael Carr, US Army Watercraft Master (Retired) “A guy with a flag simulates a flame, and a nozzleman says…I am squirting you with water…and then they say…fire is...
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has released its preliminary report into last month’s fatal capsizing of the Seacor Power lift boat off the coast of Louisiana, revealing for the first time that the lift boat capsized as it was attempting to turn into the wind and lowering its legs to ride out the storm.
The U.S.-flagged, 175-foot-long Seacor Power had 19 people on board – including nine crew, two galley staff, and eight offshore workers – when it capsized off the coast of Port Fourchon, Louisiana, on April 13, 2021. Six people were subsequently rescued by the Coast Guard and Good Samaritan vessels, while six were recovered deceased and seven remain missing.
The preliminary report also reveals information about an emailed weather report the vessel had received on the day of the accident, at approximately 7:02 a.m., five and a half hours before the vessel departed Port Fourchon where it had loaded offshore equipment on its main deck prior to getting underway.
“The Seacor Power departed Port Fourchon at about 1:30 p.m. April 13, bound for the oil and gas lease area Main Pass Block 138 in the Gulf of Mexico. A weather report emailed to the vessel at 7:02 a.m. that day predicted afternoon winds at 9 to 12 knots from the southeast with 3-foot seas,” the NTSB said in a news release. The voyage was expected to take 18 hours at a speed of about 4 knots.
“NTSB investigators learned that at about 3:30 p.m., as the Seacor Power transited the open waters of the Gulf, a squall passed over the liftboat. With visibility dropping and winds increasing significantly, the crew decided to lower the Seacor Power’s legs to the seafloor to hold the vessel in position until the storm passed. The crewmember at the helm attempted to turn the Seacor Power into the wind as the legs began to descend. Before the turn was completed, the liftboat heeled to starboard and capsized,” the NTSB said. The capsizing occurred at 3:41 p.m.
The agency said investigators also learned several people were able to escape onto the exposed, port side of the Seacor Power deckhouse.
High winds of 30–40-knots and seas that had built to 10 to 12 feet prevented rescuers from reaching those who remained on the liftboat. Some were washed into the water and six were eventually rescued, with one survivor suffering a serious injury, the NTSB said.
Vessels in the area reported heavy rain with winds exceeding 80 knots and building seas at the time of the accident.
NTSB investigators interviewed survivors, previous crew members, representatives for the owner and charterer, vessel inspectors and surveyors, and search and rescue responders.
The Seacor Power was built in 2002 and acquired by Seacor Marine LLC in 2012. It was operated by Seacor Marine and chartered to Talos Energy at the time of the accident.
The Coast Guard declared the accident a major marine casualty on April 14. The NTSB is the lead federal agency for the safety investigation, with the Coast Guard, Seacor Marine LLC, the National Weather Service, and the American Bureau of Shipping named as parties.
When the Seacor Power is salvaged, NTSB investigators intend to return to inspect the vessel and collect further evidence. Salvage crews recently completed the removal of diesel fuel from overturned vessel.
The NTSB said information in the report is preliminary and subject to change as the investigation progresses and no conclusions about the cause of the accident should be drawn from the report.
Lift boats are self-propelled, self-elevating vessels that are equipped with three or four legs and commonly used to service offshore facilities such as oil drilling platforms. SEACOR Power had three legs.
The full NTSB preliminary report is available online at https://go.usa.gov/xHtJx.
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