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NTSB adopts findings on Seacor disaster

Posted at 12:55 PM, Oct 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-10-18 18:28:32-04

The National Transportation Safety Board has closed the case of the April 13, 2021 capsizing of the SEACOR Power liftboat near Port Fourchon.

Much of what was presented to the board at their Tuesday morning meeting was a repeat of information provided at previous meetings and hearings, and was gleaned from the evidence located in the public docket, which you can see for yourself here. On Tuesday, the board adopted a final report about what happened, a probable cause for the accident, and recommendations to various parties that might prevent such a tragedy from happening again in the future.

The probable cause of the accident, as decided by the board, "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, and the high winds and seas in the aftermath of the capsizing, which hampered rescue efforts."

You can see the NTSB meeting recap document for yourself by scrolling down to the end of this story.

After the reports and votes, board chair Jennifer L. Homendy spoke for some time about one recommendation, which the NTSB has made to the U.S. Coast Guard repeatedly without success: requiring crews to carry Personal Locator Devices. She said that none of the workers on the Seacor Power had one, and more of the men on board might have survived if rescue vessels had better information about where they were. She listed several other sea disasters where PLBs weren't used; the total number of people who died in those incidents was 55.

"It's heartbreaking, and it didn't have to happen," she said. "In total, we've been waiting five years for the Coast Guard to implement our PLB recommendation, a call to action that we are recommending here again."

She pleaded with businesses to supply their crews with PLBs, with or without a USCG requirement, because they don't cost much and have been proven to save lives.

Here are all the recommendations, plus the reiteration of the previous recommendation on PLBs, adopted by the board today. The recommendations are split up according to the agency or entity to whom they are directed.

Three recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard:

  • Develop procedures to inform mariners in affected areas whenever there is an outage and a navigational Telex broadcasting site.
  • Modify restricted service to require greater stability for lift boats.
  • Develop procedures to integrate commercial municipal and nonprofit air rescue providers into sectors and districts mass rescue operations plans and when appropriate.

One recommendation to the National Weather Service:

  • In collaboration with the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Air Force determine if it is appropriate to lower the radar angle for coaster rather weather radar sites without compromising aviation safety or other products and lower the radar a goat where it's appropriate.

One recommendation to the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Air Force:

  • Work with the National Weather Service to determine if it is appropriate to lower the radar angle for coastal weather radar sites without compromising aviation safety or other products I lowered the radar angle at those sites where it is appropriate.

Two recommendations to the offshore Marine service Association:

  • Inform your members of the circumstances of this capsizing and encourage them to implement policies to stop the float operations for restricted service lift boats when a special Marine warning has been issued for the vessel's planned route to.
  • Notify your members of the availability and benefits of personal locator beacons.

Three recommendations to Seacor Marine:

  • Ensure your vessel crews received timely and accurate weather forecasts tailored to each vessels location, including applicable National Weather Service watch and warning products when they are issued.
  • Conduct a comprehensive removal of your active fleet to ensure they are being operated strictly within the limits specified and operating manuals, stability documentation and other required guidance.
  • Revise your restricted service lift boat safety management systems and operations manuals to require the vessel to remain in Port or jack-up when a special Marine warning has been issued for the vessel's planned route.

Reiteration of one previously issued recommendation on the report to the U.S. Coast Guard:

  • Recommendation M-17-45 requiring that all personal employed on vessels and coastal, Great Lakes, and ocean service be provided with a personal locator beacon to enhance their chances of survival.

Here are the investigation's 23 findings, adopted unanimously by the board, regarding what happened in April 2021:
1. None of the following were safety issues for the casualty voyage: 1) Mechanical and electrical systems 2) Watertight integrity 3) Crew experience and qualifications or 4) Fatigue.

2. Commercial pressure was not a factor in the captain's decision to get underway.

3. The weather forecast Seacor Marine provided to the Seacor Power crew on the morning of the capsizing was insufficient for making weather-related decisions about the lift boat's operation.

4. Given the conditions and the marine weather information available to the captain at the time the lift boat left Port Fourchon, the captain's decision to get underway was reasonable although the captain was not aware of the severe thunderstorm watch it likely would not have changed his decision.

5. Because the Coast Guard's New Orleans navigational telex site was not operational on the afternoon of the capsizing the SEACOR Power crew did not receive the special Marine warning and was not aware of the severity of thunderstorms that were approaching that afternoon.

6. Data gaps, including a lack of low altitude greater visibility over the Louisiana coastal areas, prevented the National Weather Service office that issued the special Marine warning for the casualty site area around the casualty time from identifying and forecasting the surface wind magnitudes that impacted the SEACOR Power.

7. Lowering the angle of the lowest radar beam at selected coastal weather radar sites would improve low altitude radar visibility over coastal waters and therefore improve forecasters' ability to accurately monitor, forecast, and notify the public of weather conditions.

8. As designed the Seacor Power met applicable intact stability criteria.

9. Seacor Power capsized when it was struck by severe thunderstorm winds that exceeded the vessel's operational wind speed limits and when combined with sea conditions, resulted in a loss of stability.

10. Although the Seacor Power met stability criteria at the time of the casualty, the vessels trimmed by the Eastern decreased the vessel's ability to resist capsizing.

11. Operation of the Seacor Power with trim by the storm that exceeded the limit specified in the operating manual, stability documentation, and other required guidance was an accepted practice by vessel crews.

12. The Seacor Power's trim by the stern, it's turn to port and speed through the water, a cargo shift, and movement of the vessel's legs may have contributed to the vessel's capsizing.

13. Due to the unpredictability of localized thunderstorm phenomenon and the vulnerability of restricted service lift boats in the storms, operating a restricted service lift boat in the afloat mode at any time when a Special Marine Warning has been issued for the vessels planned route increases its risk of capitalizing.

14. Increasing minimal stable criteria for lift boats in restricted service would improve vessel survivability in severe thunderstorms.

15. The speed at which the vessel capsized an angle at which it came to rest made egress difficult and likely contributed to the fatalities.

16. That Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center did not effectively use available information to verify the validity of the location of Seacor Power's emergency position indicating radio beacon alerts, which led to a delay in dispatching service and rescue units, and notifying Good Samaritan vessels of the emergency.

17. Inaccurate information about the Seacor Power's location provided to the Coast Guard by a Seacor Marine employee when contacted regarding the vessel's emergency position indicating radio beacon alert contributed to the delayed response.

18. Seacor Marine did not have adequate procedures nor did it provide its staff with training for responding to the Coast Guard when contacted regarding the emergency position indicating radio beacon alerts.

19. A detailed procedure in Coast Guard mass rescue operation plans combined with mutual aid agreements between the Coast Guard and air rescue providers would improve and expand search and rescue capabilities for future casualties.

20. High winds and heavy seas combined with underwater and overhead obstructions prevented both surface and air resources from getting close enough to the vessel to rescue personnel directly from the wreck, which contributed to the loss of life.

21. Mariners have benefited from their employers voluntarily providing personal locator beacons or satellite emergency notification devices.

22. Had the crew members of the Seacor Power been required to carry personal locator beacons on board as recommended in safety recommendation M-17-45 and had they've been activated when abandoning the vessel, search and rescue crews would have had continuously updated and correct coordinates of individual crewmembers' locations, enhancing their chances of being rescued.

23. Although not causal to the fatalities at despite functioning as designed, the search and rescue transponder held by the mate in the water was not effective in signaling vessels or aircraft due to high seas, no means to hold the device high enough above the water, and lack of rescuer training.