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The National Transportation Safety Board has issued three safety recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard and reiterated fourth on the use of personal locator beacons following the agency’s investigation into last year’s fatal capsizing of the Seacor Power liftboat in the Gulf of Mexico.
The NTSB is also making one recommendation each to the National Weather Service, Federal Aviation Administration and the US Air Force, two to the Offshore Marine Service Association, and three recommendations to the owner and operator of the vessel.
The NTSB said severe winds during a thunderstorm led to a loss of stability and ultimately the capsizing of the liftboat off the coast of Port Fourchon, Louisiana, back on April 13, 2021. Thirteen people were killed in the accident, including seven whose bodies have not been recovered. Six people were rescued by the Coast Guard and good samaritan vessels.
The NTSB held a public board meeting on Tuesday to vote on findings, probable cause and recommendations.
At the time of the accident, the Seacor Power was en route to an oil and gas lease block in the Gulf of Mexico with 19 people on board, including eleven crew and eight offshore workers. After getting underway a little after noon, sometime after 3 p.m. the vessel overtaken by a rain squall. The vessel’s mate told investigator that a second squall about 10 minutes later caused “white out” conditions.
As the crew was lowering the vessel’s 265-foot-long legs to the seafloor to allow the vessel to ride out the storm, the mate turned the Seacor Power into the wind to slow its speed. As the vessel turned, it heeled over and capsized at around 3:57 p.m.
A National Weather Service report at the time concluded the area of the capsizing was affected by an “unusually intense thunderstorm wind event.” Vessel operators reported heavy rain, winds exceeding 80 knots and 2- to 4-foot seas at the time of the capsizing.
The NTSB determined the probable cause of the capsizing was a loss of stability that occurred when the vessel was struck by severe thunderstorm winds, which exceeded the vessel’s operational wind speed limits. Contributing to the loss of life on the vessel were the speed at which the vessel capsized and the angle at which it came to rest, which made egress difficult. High winds and seas in the aftermath of the capsizing hampered rescue efforts.
In a report abstract released by the NTSB, the agency said it found that the captain’s decision to get underway was reasonable and not influenced by commercial pressure. However, weather information provided on the morning of the capsizing to Seacor Power’s crew by the vessel’s owner and operator, SEACOR Marine, was “insufficient for making weather-related decisions about the liftboat’s operation.”
NTSB investigators further identified data gaps that prevented the National Weather Service from identifying and forecasting the surface wind magnitudes that the Seacor Power encountered. Specifically, localized wind conditions could not be detected by weather service radars due to their elevation angles.
As a result, the NTSB has issued the National Weather Service, Federal Aviation Administration, and the Air Force a recommendation to work together to assess coastal weather radar sites to determine if it is safe and appropriate to lower radar angles, which could improve the ability to accurately forecast weather conditions.
Also, due to an outage the Coast Guard’s New Orleans navigational telex site, the Seacor Power crew did not receive a National Weather Service Special Marine Warning notifying mariners of a severe thunderstorm in the area.
The NTSB also issued three safety recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard. First, to develop procedures to inform mariners in affected areas whenever there is an outage at a navigational telex broadcasting site. Second, to modify restricted-service liftboat stability regulations to require greater stability for newly constructed restricted-service liftboats. Lastly, to develop procedures to integrate commercial, municipal, and non-profit air rescue providers into Sectors’ and Districts’ mass rescue operations plans.
The NTSB also reiterated a recommendation to the U.S. Coast Guard to require all personnel employed on vessels in coastal, Great Lakes and ocean service be provided with a personal locator beacon. The NTSB also recommended the Offshore Marine Service Association notify members of personal locator beacons’ availability and value.
“We’ve been waiting five years for the Coast Guard to implement our recommendation on personal locator beacons — a call to action we’re renewing today for the fourth time,” said NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy. “Mariners’ safety can’t wait, which is why I’m urging employers to invest in personal locator beacons for their crew. As the Seacor Power tragedy shows, the lifesaving promise of these devices cannot be overstated.”
The first time the NTSB recommended the Coast Guard require personal locator beacons was following the 2015 sinking of the cargo vessel El Faro with the loss of all 33 crewmembers. NTSB reiterated the recommendation for the first time after the fishing vessel Scandies Rose sank off Sutwik Island, Alaska, in 2019, killing five people. And again following the 2020 sinking of the Emmy Rose fishing vessel off the coast of Massachusetts, which killed all four crewmembers.
“None of the people aboard the El Faro, the Scandies Rose, the Emmy Rose, or the Seacor Power had personal locator beacons. If they did, perhaps more of them would be with us today,” Homendy said. “Instead, 55 people died or were unrecovered in these tragedies — 55 people gone forever.”
The three recommendations to SEACOR Marine focus on providing timely and accurate weather forecasts, ensuring its fleet is operated within its operating limits, and requring liftboats to remain in port or jacked up when a Special Marine Warning is issued.
The NTSB’s final report on the incident is not expected for several more weeks.
The executive summary, probable cause, findings, and safety recommendations are in the report abstract available on the investigation web page.
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