4 dead, 9 remain missing after lift boat incident

Adriana Navarro
·6 min read

After days of search efforts, family members of the crew missing after the Seacor Power capsized are still waiting for answers regarding their loved ones.

On Tuesday, Marion Cuyler recorded a video of the turbulent weather from her workplace and sent it to her fiancé, Chaz Morales, a crane operator on the Seacor Power.

"He told me around one or something that they were jacking down. They were heading out, and I told him, I said, 'The weather is too bad. You need to come home,'" Cuyler recounted to reporters on Thursday.

It was one of the last conversations Cuyler had with Morales before the turbulent weather intensified, the 129-foot Seacor Power lift boat capsized amid hurricane-force winds and turbulent waves about 8 miles south of Port Fourchon, Louisiana, in the Gulf of Mexico.

"One squall came through, I think the Coast Guard said it went from 10 to 20 knots to 50 to 80 knots in a matter of minutes, and it just caught 'em by surprise," Cuyler said.

Marion Cuyler, fiancée of missing crew member Chaz Morales, walks to talk to reporters at a fire station where family members have been gathering, after a lift boat capsized in the Gulf of Mexico during a storm on Tuesday, killing two with 11 others still missing, in Port Fourchon, La., Thursday, April 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The vessel had 19 members on board at the time, six of whom were rescued soon after the incident. As of Friday evening, four deaths had been confirmed from the incident.

The first crew member recovered on Wednesday was identified as 63-year-old David Ledet, the Lafourche Parish Coroner's Office told AccuWeather National Weather Reporter Bill Wadell on Friday. Authorities told NOLA.com on Thursday that Ledet had been the captain of the Seacor Power.

The Coroner's Office also confirmed with Wadell that the second person, who was found Thursday, was identified as Ernest Williams, 69, from Arnaudville, Louisiana.

Friday evening, The U.S. Coast Guard announced that Seacor contracted commercial divers from Donjon Marine Company recovered two more unresponsive people on Friday.

The search continues for the remaining 9 crew members.

Stormy weather delayed rescue efforts on Thursday, though divers were able to conduct operations and knock on the hull of the vessel, reportedly not receiving a response. Diving efforts were once again suspended Friday morning due to dangerous weather conditions before resuming in the afternoon.

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The United States Coast Guard declared the incident as a major marine casualty on Thursday as search efforts continue.

Under U.S. law, a major marine casualty can be declared for any accident involving a commercial vessel that meets one of four circumstances: the loss of six or more lives, the loss of a mechanically propelled vessel of 100 or more gross tons, property damage initially estimated at $2 million or more or deemed a serious threat to life, property or the environment due to hazardous materials.

In the case of Seacor Power, Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Carlos Galarza told NOLA.com that the disaster qualified as a major marine casualty since the vessel weighed more than 100 tons and its capsizing is estimated to have met the $2 million threshold in damage.

Galarza also stressed that investigators had not yet determined whether the criterion on the loss of lives would apply to the case of the Seacor Power.

Family members of those missing are now questioning why the vessel went out to sea in the first place.

"That's what everyone is saying -- why did it leave?" Cuyler said. "Who gave the orders for this boat to leave in this type of weather? Gale-force winds, it shouldn't have left. Especially a jack-up rig. There's no way."

In this photo provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, A Coast Guard Station Grand Isle 45-foot Response Boat-medium boat crew member searches for survivors near the capsized SeaCor Power. The Seacor Power, an oil industry vessel, flipped over Tuesday, April 13, 2021 in a microburst of dangerous wind and high seas. (U.S. Coast Guard via AP)

Accidents regarding lift boats are not a new thing, though there have been less of them over the years as regulations tightened in recent decades.

One of the main features of lift boats is their legs and feet, David Bourg, founder and managing partner at MiNO Marine, LLC, and adjunct professor at the University of New Orleans School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, Bourg told AccuWeather National Weather Reporter Bill Wadell. Using these, it can lift its hull completely out of the water with the purpose of creating a stable working platform.

"The particular lift boat [from this] tragic accident had 265 feet of leg, so it's like a 26-story building," Bourg said.

Lift boats were invented in southern Louisiana, he noted, meaning they've always had to contend with storm conditions and hurricanes.

"They have to be designed to meet rigorous standards for severe weather, and they have to have protocols in place when hurricanes or tropical storms are forecast and so on," Bourg said. "Those standards relate to afloat stability, elevated stability, the strength of their legs and their ability to withstand high winds and waves."

Most lift boats in the Gulf of Mexico are certified for restricted service, he noted, which are designed to withstand 70-knot winds (about 81 mph) while elevated or afloat, but must also be able to survive 100-knot winds (115 mph) when elevated in a safe harbor. Lift boats certified for unrestricted service are designed to withstand 100-knot winds while elevated or afloat.

Storm reports from the area on Tuesday indicated wind gusts of 75 mph were measured during the storm near Grand Isle. A 112-mph wind gust was also measured offshore at an oil rig.

"Let's not speculate and let's let the experts get in there and see what happens and hopefully there will be more survivors and we'll learn some lessons after it's all done and we know what actually happened," Bourg said.

Expressing frustration and anger over the situation, Cuyler called for the tragedy to lead to change.

"Hopefully the companies will decide that maybe they should wait a couple of hours before sending lives at risk," she said. "They need to think of their crew before they think of their pockets."

Additional reporting by AccuWeather National Weather Reporter Bill Wadell.

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