The second week of formal public hearings began Monday into the capsizing of the liftboat Seacor Power.
Over the first week, testimonies have been heard from two survivors of the capsizing, witnesses to the capsizing, and Coast Guard personnel who were on duty the day of the incident.
The daily hearings begin at 8:00 am at the Courtyard Marriot Hotel in Houma and will continue until August 13.
On Tuesday, Off Boat Captain Scott Timmons and Off-Boat Chief Engineer James Endres will testify. A third testimony will be heard from Paul Fremin Manager of Seacor Operations on Tuesday afternoon.
During these hearings the Coast Guard will consider evidence related to the capsizing of the Seacor Power and the loss of 13 of its 19 crewmembers. Survivors of the incident and representatives of the agencies involved are scheduled to speak over the course of the sessions. See the schedule.
Sessions can be watched online at this link: https://livestream.com/uscginvestigations.
Off-Boat Captain Scott Timmons testified on Tuesday morning. Timmons was on board the Seacor Power on the morning of the incident. He and his crew were changing out with the new crew that would be taking control of the vessel.
He said that there were no issues during his voyage expect for the loss of a life raft and grating damage on the starboard leg tower. That damage occurred due to high winds and waves hitting the vessel while the Seacor was heading in to Port Fourchon.
Timmons said the life raft was lost on either the Sunday afternoon or morning, April 11, before daylight.
Bollinger, Timmons testified, made repairs while docked in Port Fourchon.
Timmons said his crew had finished the job and they were returning to port after their 14-days on and not because of losing the life raft or grating damage.
On the morning of April 13, the crew change took place at 6:00 am or shortly after 6 am, Timmons said.
He and the captain discussed the condition of the vessel, the future job and what was expected during the time frame of job. Timmons said Bollinger was still working on the grating but that the life raft work had been completed.
He said that the life raft was improperly installed without brackets after being disposed of with the box. That was fixed after Timmons had left the boat, he said.
The discussions with Captain Ledet, he said, took about 45 minutes. Timmons said that they did not discuss weather together.
Timmons said he and his crew left the boat at about 7:00 am. He said the other crew members appeared normal that morning.
A vessel orientation took place after Timmons and his crew had left the vessel. Timmons described orientations as a scripted run-through of the boat and include emergency drills and sounding alarms. He said that each Captain has their own orientation for crewmembers coming onto the boat.
Timmons said the weather was good at 7:00 am. He had not seen a weather forecast that day.
Timmons said that he gets his weather reports on the Buoy App on his phone and the computer. The app, he said, is provided by the company. They would also use the NOAA website and the Seacor Office for weather. Those reports would usually come in at 6:00 am and 8:00 am and additional forecasts could be requested by calling the Seacor dispatch.
In the bridge, NAVTEX and VHF Radio was used to receive weather reports. Timmons used the NAVTEX generally if there were any concerns with weather while he was underway. He said he would not often print out reports from the NAVTEX.
During testimony last week, First Mate Bryan Mires said that he received an alarm from the GMDSS that the printer was out of paper. The printer does alarm when it is out of paper and will not be printed until refilled.
Timmons said that all of the systems were working normally when he left the Seacor Power on April 13. The alarm for the printer, he said, was not going off.
When asked by the NTSB about internet access, Timmons said that he used Buoy Weather as there was no computer on the bridge. The internet would have to be accessed on the master's computer in the Captain's room. In order to check weather, Timmons said he could use WiFi from a personal cellphone to access differing weather apps.
Timmons, in answering questions from Seacor Marine, said that he considers checking and monitoring weather to be his responsibility. The Buoy app, he said, shows projected weather in different locations that the vessel would be taking.
Calls could also be made from the company to the crew about weather warnings. Timmons said that he had received those calls from the company in the last two years about weather concerns. He said the superintendent would call to give that information.
Timmons said that information would mostly be what they had already received by checking the internet and other apps.
Timmons said that no systems in the bridge alerted him to weather he and his crew received on April 11 that caused damaged to the grating and caused them to lose a life raft.
"Wind is one thing, of all of it, that you look at," Timmons said recalling the situation that caused the life raft to be lost and leg grating to be damaged. "The wind was 48 knots and I was down to 2 knots so I put it in a safe location and put it in the air."
First Mate Bryan Mires testified last week that he received no weather alerts from the weather devices in the bridge on the day of the capsizing.
On Monday, August 9, Cmdr. Vince Taylor of the United State's Coast Guard said that a connectivity issue between the Coast Guard's Chesapeake, Virginia station and a transmitter site in New Orleans caused no marine warnings to be sent to vessels via the NAVTEX system.
In response questions about weather conditions, Timmons gave his opinion on the functioning of the Seacor Power.
Timmons said that at 70 knot winds, it would be impossible to navigate the vessel and there would not be much headway made due to the wind.
When asked about forward movement during high winds, Timmons said that operational concerns about making way would need to be taken into consideration. Operating limits Seacor Power were set at a wind of 70 knots and 4 to 5 foot seas.
"I would never run the boat in that high of winds," he said when asked if it was okay to run during 60 to 70 knot winds. "When the winds start getting high, you're just looking for a place to jack."
When asked by the NTSB if he would return to a safe port or jack up in the event of a 60 knot or higher wind, Timmons said given the option he would head to a safe port if he had the time.
The winds, he said, would not affect the vessel's legs.
"Oh, no ma'am. She's a heavy vessel, she's very stout," Timmons told Captain Phillips when asked about the wind's effect on legs.
Timmons said that thunderstorms that roll through don't worry him, but do peak his interest.
Based on a forecast, Timmons would jack up if seas reached five foot but he said so many variables are at play. He would not jack up every time there was a passing storm.
Describing the handling, Timmons reiterated that the vessel was heavy and would only be effected by ground swells. The rolling of the boat, he said, was slow and only about a half to one and a half degrees.
The biggest list he ever experienced while underway was estimated at one and a half to maybe two degrees which Timmons said would be a normal roll of the boat.
Timmons said he had never felt the Seacor Power list from a gust of wind, only during sustained winds. When asked the same, Off-boat engineer James Endres said he had never felt the boat list from a gust of wind or from sustained winds.
As captain, Timmons said that excessive gusts would concern him. He said he would expect the Seacor Power to survive a wind gust of 80 knots.
The boat would never list when he was jacking down, he said.
"It could if you allowed one leg to get too far from the other. It could affect the stability that way, but as long as the sequence of legs are going together it wouldn't cause a list," he said. "None of them are exact sync and you may get a leg that's three or four feet from the other one."
It was common on liftboats, he said, to jack up two to three times during a voyage before making it to a destination.
He noted that a normal forward speed for the Seacor Power was three and a half to 5 knots. Timmons said 6 knots was the fastest he was ever able to get Seacor to go.
Asked about operations and jobs of those on board, Timmons gave a brief summary of those operations.
Crane operators are in charge of loading cargo onto the deck. For loading, the boat would be jacked up at the dock and crane operators would lift the equipment onto the main deck from trucks. Chief Engineer Endres said that the crane operators were experienced and knew where to place loads on the deck.
A report with how much the cargo weighed and where it was placed would be made. The crane would weigh the amount of cargo.
A stability form was then filled out and drafts were reported to ensure the vessel was stable. Chief Engineer Endres said that he was in charge of taking care of filling out the forms while he was on board.
Timmons said that the stern draft is a lot higher in numbers at 14 feet. Depending on the equipment on deck, he said the numbers could be at 8 or 7 on the bow. That would result in two feet of aft trim, which Timmons said was normal. On the morning of April 13, Endres said he did not take any readings. His final readings were taken the night before.
Adjustments to cargo would be made if any listing was noticed.
"You know from experience on the vessel that she's listing," Timmons said. "You're going to handle it before you take draft readings. We're not always waiting on numbers to make that assessment."
Other checks were also taken before the boat got underway, like the pre-departure checklist. That check was recorded and filed on the boat along with the stability drafts all saved as hard copies.
A bridge log was kept, Timmons said. That log would include the pre-departure checklist and the time the vessel got underway.
Voyage plans were made before getting underway, he said. Those plans included all the manuals, VHF channels, and possible hazards for the trip.
The crew was notified that once the ship was underway, no one was allowed on the main deck. The watertight doors on the main deck were checked by the AV's and be followed by the chief. A report would be given to the Captain that they were locked before the boat was jacked down.
Chief Engineer Endres testified on Tuesday, that they would often have problems with the crew leaving the main galley door open while they were underway. Often someone would have to go in behind them to dog the door down.
Timmons said he would then make an announcement that the watertight doors were to remain closed while in transit.
Regarding the functions of the vessel, Timmons said that a general alarm, fire alarm and tilt alarm were available on board the vessel on separate systems. Those alarms, Timmons said, would sound generally in the same locations. Speakers were found inside the hallways but not inside the rooms.
There were stations in the hallways and lounges where crew could call up to the bridge, Timmons said. The vessel had a VHF and handheld radios for crew.
The mate was in charge of checking and maintaining the SART transponder on the boat. They were checked every 30 days.
The engineer handled any watertight door problems, but Timmons said anyone on crew could make those determinations and they would handle it.
Bilge alarms were found in engine and rudder rooms. Timmons said that he had never heard one of those alarms go off other than testing.
No other alarms would go off on a regular basis, he said.
He said he had had some problems with leaking hatches or tank covers. Timmons recalled the ring on the hatch on deck rusting out and not sealing. Those problems were fixed by changing out the seals.
Timmons did not recall any ongoing problems with the vessel while he was on board.
The emergency lights are tested every month, but Timmons and Endres said they did not remember when. Both said the ship would be darkened and power cut to make sure the emergency lights would come on. Those lights were meant to remain on for ten minutes.
Timmons said that if there was water in the legs the ship would list, he never experienced that on the Seacor Power. The ship would jack up between 4 and 5 feet a minute depending on the throttle given. He said that there are ways to regulate the jacking down process and make changes should there be any need to.
Overall, Timmons said the vessel was well maintained with no outstanding maintenance items besides rust prevention.
Endres said that the main problems that would normally need to be addressed were with the cranes and the jacking mechanism.
There were no reported issues with the engine or engineering equipment.
Timmons said that he never felt pressured by Seacor to make decision in opposition to how he felt regarding the weather and safety, when asked during questioning by Seacor Marine. When asked by the NTSB a similar question, Timmons said he had never felt pressured to continue a job by Seacor or to perform a job because of any fears of being let go.
Timmons said it was surprising that, during coast guard testimony on Wednesday, that the dispatcher with Seacor Marine reported that the vessel was still moored in Port Fourchon when the vessel had already capsized.
During his testimony on Tuesday, Chief Engineer James Endres said that during that time the vessel was underway he would be in his office in the Motor Control Center (MCC) room.
A watch would take place around the clock. Every thirty minutes there would be an engine room check and paperwork and preventative maintenance would also be done.
Sometimes he would come out of the engine room. There was no set time for how long he could be outside of the engine room. There was no internal exit from the engine room or escape. Endres said there are only two exits.
The engineer would be the only person entering and exiting the engine room and when leaving the room the water tight doors were to be locked. They were in good condition he said.
Paul Sterbcow, representing first mate Bryan Mires, asked Endres about Engineer Darren Encalade and where he would have been at the time of the capsizing.
Endres said Encalade would have been in the MCC room between the two engine rooms. With only two doors to use as exits for the MCC room, Endres said those doors would have been the only option for his rescue at the time of the capsizing.
Seacor Operations Manager Paul Freamin provided the final testimony on Tuesday. Freamin has been the Operations Manager for Seacor liftboats since May 2020. He currently oversees five active vessels, and his duties include appraising Vessel Masters and things like their seamanship, conduct, and skills.
Freamin said on the morning of April 13, he called Captain David Ledet for an update on that morning's crew change. There was an incident on board in which a third party contractor tripped, but chose not to seek medical attention and stayed on board.
Freamin spoke to Ledet again later that day, who said everything was going well and the liftboat should be getting underway in the next few hours.
Ledet sent Freamin an email at 12:17 p.m. stating he was jacking down from Bollinger/Port Fourchon for the 20-22 hour transit to Main Pass 138, and again stated "all good."
Freamin's next contact was with dispatch at 4:16 p.m., who said he'd gotten a call from the Coast Guard at 4:07 p.m. regarding a signal from the Seacor Power's (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) and wanting to verify the boat's beacon ID and the vessel's status.
Freamin said he then began making phone calls to try and find more information, including to Capt. Ledet, who "didn't answer." A short while later he heard from his boss, who said a nearby boat had reported seeing the Seacor Power capsize.
He spoke with Fourchon Harbor Police, figuring the liftboat couldn't have been far and hoping the officers had heard a mayday call, but they hadn't heard anything. Freamin again called the Coast Guard, who said they had not heard of the capsizing.
Each morning, Seacor dispatch sends weather information compiled from a website called Buoy Weather. Freamin discussed the weather during two phone calls that day with Ledet.
He pulled up the forecast for three locations: Port Fourchon, Main Pass 138, and a midpoint between the two. They were all similar, forecasting 3-4 ft. seas and 15-20 knot winds.
The captain did not express concerns about the weather to Freamin.
There were a few issues on the Seacor Power before it departed, including problems with the starboard outboard, grating that needed to be repaired on a crane, and a lost liferaft. All were fixed before the boat departed.
Freamin said vessels typically send email or call if they've stopped work for any reason, most commonly due to weather. The boats can't transit in high seas or winds, so when conditions get too bad during transit the crew will "jack up" and ride it out, he said.
He gets daily reports from vessels each morning, providing things like the vessel's location and weather. Freamin said there is no action he is required to take, though he has before, because of information in the report.
Freamin evaluated captain navigation skills during his previous job based on his personal opinion through speaking with the captains and determining their knowledge of things like the wheelhouse and equipment. He has not had formal navigation training.
During severe weather, the legs of a liftboat can whip, affecting the boat's stability. To an extent, higher winds can cause worse whipping. A photo was shown of information from a Seacor Power manual that states, "When running the vessel under certain wind and wave conditions, the legs may tend to whip in the support towers. this condition can fatigue and crack the steel supports, and the vessel master should consider changing course and/or speed."
Another item shown from the manual states, "Moves should always be conducted when good weather and calm seas are predicted for the duration of the move."
While Seacor receives regular weather updates, Freamin said the crews most up-to-date weather is "what's in front of them." Crew members have VHF radios and NavTechs for weather alerts. Freamin said he is not aware of any shore-side Seacor facility that is equipped with VHF radio.
To his knowledge, no potential warnings were transmitted over a channel the Seacor Power would have heard on April 13.
Freamin said during his second call with Ledet they discussed the weather and Ledet said, "Before we leave we'll look out the window and we'll go from there."
An email from Ledet to Freamin at 12:17 p.m. said the Seacor Power was "Jacking down from Bollinger, Fourchon / Heading to Main Pass 138 , eta ,roughly 20-22 HRS / all good."
A second email shown of a routine report from the Seacor Power on April 13 said the weather forecast included cloudy skies, 15-20 mph winds, 3-4 foot seas, and visibility of 3-4 miles.
Deck cargo should be strapped down, but some boat decks are painted with a non-stick coating, and friction as a result of the coating would ensure cargo would not move. It couldn't be confirmed if the Seacor's deck had that coating on April 13.
Ultimately the decision to secure or not secure deck cargo is up to the Vessel Master.
Seacor has a website to view the vessel on AIS as another way to track the boat besides its daily reports. Freamin said there is nothing requiring a person to monitor that system.
When an EPIRB sends a vessel distress call, the call is routed to a 24/7 Seacor dispatcher. Freamin is not aware if that person is trained on what to do when receiving such a message. The dispatcher has the tools to locate the boat and receive reports.
Freamin said he is not aware of any training anyone received on steps to take if receiving notification of a distress signal.
There were storms in the area, but Freamin said he had no knowledge that the weather he saw at his home in Thibodaux was heading south to Port Fourchon and the Seacor Power's location.
After learning of the liftboat's capsizing, an emergency response team including Freamin and Seacor's CEO and CFO, was mobilized and met via Microsoft Teams. During that meeting, Freamin learned the Coast Guard had "finally gotten word of the Seacor Power." The team then began preparing for search and rescue.
Seacor's response was to provide a vessel for search and rescue divers and, later, provide a salvage site for the boat.
Seacor tried to mobilize a boat in Morgan City, but it was held up due to a road closure and didn't arrive at the Seacor Power site until hours later. Talos also offered a vessel on charter, but it was also unable to be used.
The company reached out to another vessel and multiple people in Port Fourchon, but were unsuccessful.
Divers received detailed drawings/plans of the liftboat before heading to the site. Freamin said he gave those plans to the divers himself.
The emergency response team left their homes and set up a command center at Bollinger in Port Fourchon. Most of them stayed overnight, Freamin said.
Freamin wasn't certain if Talos would have a rescue plan independent of Seacor's. Seacor was coordinating with the Coast Guard in search and rescue efforts. The company reached out to Donjon divers; who worked under the direction of the Coast Guard, who Freamin said was in charge of search and rescue operations at the time.
After the capsizing, Seacor asked Buoy Weather to pull data from the entire month of April.
Freamin never made representation that there were 7 people on the liftboat, he said.
He never had issues with Capt. Ledet or the rest of the crew.
He had no recommendations to prevent a similar incident from happening again. He said the company is still going through the situation and learning through the process of the hearings.
Since April 13, Freamin said Seacor feels it necessary to, in particular, monitor the Persons on Board count at all times, implement weather forecasts for any type of transit, and ask the crew to send in stability programs.
RECAP FROM WEEK 2
At the beginning of Monday's hearing, Capt Tracy Phillips read fragments of testimony from survivors of the Seacor Power.
Those testimonies gave a clearer picture of how the survivors managed to escape the capsized vessel and documented the actions of survivors. Many gave reports of those had escaped the vessel but are still unaccounted for. Statements read were from survivors Brandon Aucoin, James Gracien, Zachary Louviere, and Charles Scallan.
The first to testify on Tuesday was Phillip Grigsby with the National Weather Service in Slidell.
Grigsby was working the day shift and explained that on the day of the incident a bow echo moved across Southeast Louisiana and into the coastal waters. That bow echo was strengthened by a wake low, an uncommon occurrence, he said. Grigsby testified that the storm's high winds lasted longer than normally seen with those types of systems.
Also testifying was Commander Vince Taylor. Taylor testified of connectivity issues that the Chesapeake, Virginia Coast Guard Communications station was have with the New Orleans site on April 13. The connectivity issue was due to problems with the internet which he said are rare.
The final testimony came from Seacor Superintendent Tommy Saunier. He testified about his role as superintendent and his duties of taking care of repairs and maintenance for Seacor liftboats.
Saunier explained in the past their was an issue with Seacor Power's legs that caused it to list, but that those issues had been fixed. While the legs weren't checked during the last routine drydocking, he said there was no need to inspect them because if they were damaged then the boat would have been listing during drydocking, which it was not.
Speaking of Captain Ledet, Saunier said they had been friends for a long time and that "if he knew of any problem he would not have left."
Read more from Day 6 of testimony, here.
BELOW IS A RECAP OF WEEK 1
On Monday, survivor Dwayne Lewis shared his story. He said he was taught that if a boat went down in the Gulf, to break a window - but when it came down to it, it took the strength of two men. Lewis added he doesn't know how to swim, so when he entered the water, a new struggle began. He faced 10-12 foot waves amid a torrential downpour, lightning, and high winds.
Also speaking Monday was a captain near the Seacor during the storm, who said the weather that day was unlike anything he's ever experienced.
"It started drizzling, so we walked inside and that's when ... all hell broke loose," captain Ted Duthu said. The liftboat captain was on a nearby boat when the Seacor Power went down. He shared new video taken from his camera during the storm, which had waves higher than the projected 3-5 feet. He observed winds of 112 miles per hour.
When the rain died down, Duthu's crew found the Seacor Power on its side and called mayday.
To read more on Day 1 of testimony, click here.
On Tuesday, the Seacor Power's first mate, Bryan Mires, testified. Mires gave testimony about his experience during the capsizing of the liftboat and the weather conditions on the day of the incident. He detailed the operations of the liftboat and what checks were done by the crew before and during the boat's departure.
Mires said that he and Captain David Ledet discussed the weather on the day of the incident which, he recalled, was sunny with a few clouds.
Mires was the second survivor of the Seacor Power to speak during the hearings. He was one of six crewmembers rescued from the waters following the incident.
Also testifying on Tuesday was Coast Guard SAR Systems Specialist Edwin Thiedeman. He answered questions about the functioning of on-vessel devices that emit distress signals when activated.
To read more on Day 2 of testimony, click here.
On Wednesday, Coast Guard Command Duty Officers Lieutenant Brandon Critchfield and Lieutenant Seth Gross detailed their handling of the search and rescue response to the vessel on April 13.
Critchfield said that there was confusion caused in the District 8 office by incorrect information initially received from Seacor Marine that said the vessel was moored and not in distress. A beacon distress signal received on the afternoon of the incident did not provide details of the liftboat's location.
Boatswain's Mates Jessica Gill and Anthony Abbate also testified Wednesday, recalling their first-hand accounts as coxswains on the 45 foot response boats that arrived at the scene of the capsizing to rescue survivors.
Read more on Day 3 of testimony, here.
Thursday's hearing began with testimony from two members of the Bristow Helicopter flight crew, Jason Jennison and Jim Peters. The two testified about their response to the capsizing of the Seacor Power and the efforts taken to attempt rescues of the survivors on board.
The two said that the intense weather conditions that night and hesitation from the crew to abandon the sinking vessel made rescue attempts difficult.
"We asked them to get into the water," Peters said. "One of them came back on the radio and said, 'I can't swim.' You could hear the terror."
Jennison said at one point during the hearing that getting the crewmembers to jump into the ocean that night, "would have taken a leap of faith to do."
The odds of survival, he said, would have been better had they entered the water rather than staying behind.
"The outcome we wanted didn't happen," Peters said "In our parts, we failed because we didn't get the individuals off and back to base."
Coast Guard Capt. Tracy Phillips, chairwoman of the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation, told Peters that she believes that the helicopter crew did the best they could.
Also testifying on Thursday were Lieutenant j.g. Aaron Rice with the United States Coast Guard Marine Safety Unit in Houma and Matthew Barrie a surveyor with the American Bureau of Shipping.
Read more from Day 4 of testimony, here.
Leonard Guidry, the captain of the Glenn Harris, testified on Friday morning. The Glenn Harris, a non-commissioned Coast Guard cutter at the time of the incident, was one of the first boats to respond to the scene following the capsizing.
Guidry testified about his actions to rescue survivors of the Seacor Power along with the Coast Guard and Bristow Helicopter crew.
During his testitmony Guidry said his boat crew took one Seacor Power crewmember on board and was in communication with some of the men on board the capsized vessel. He said that as conditions worsened during the night, two men on board radioed about taking refuge inside a hatch in the ship.
"He was asking for help and how they were going to take shelter in that space inside the ship, where ever the hatch was," said Guidry.
Guidry said after that communication, there were no more calls received from the radio.
Also testifying on Friday were auditors from the American Bureau of Shipping.
Read more from Day 5 of testimony, here.
A blog operated by the Coast Guard will provide hearing updates at www.mariners.coastguard.blog
The National Transportation Safety Board is the leading agency in the Seacor Power investigation. They will also participate in the Coast Guard public hearing. The NTSB is expected to produce an independent report with its own findings.
Anyone wishing to provide information that may assist the investigation and the public hearing can submit that information via email to: email@example.com
The Seacor Power capsized in the Gulf of Mexico on April 13, 2021, approximately seven miles south of Port Fourchon. Nineteen crewmembers were on board at the time of the capsizing. Six crewmembers were initially rescued, and six were recovered unresponsive during the course of the response.
Following the incident, crews searched for a cumulative 175 hours, covering more than 9,200 square nautical miles, over the course of six days.
The search for the remaining seven crewmembers was suspended by the Coast Guard on April 19.
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