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Second week of public hearings on Seacor Power capsizing moves into third day

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Posted at 7:50 AM, Aug 11, 2021

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 Wednesday, testimony was heard from Michael Cenac, Seacor DPA or Designated Person Ashore and Barrett Charpentier, Seacor Marine Alt DPA and auditor. The hearing will end with testimony from Seacor General Manager Joey Ruiz.

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.

DAY 8

Michael Cenac who serves as a Designated Person Ashore at Seacor Marine testified first on Wednesday. He began his role as a DPA in January 2020. In this role he provides a link between Seacor Marine and any person on a vessel he oversees. He currently oversees from 56 to 60 vessels as a DPA.

Those vessels are located globally, he said.

As a DPA, Cenac said he conducts meetings and monitors audits and accident reports. He also spends time scheduling meetings and liaisons with company operations teams for audits and assessments.

Cenac said he does not have specific training with liftboats except for on the job training. 12 to 15 boats he oversees are liftboats.

As DPA, Cenac said that he gets calls two to three times a day from the ships he oversees. DPA related calls are about safety issues or concerns that a vessel may need guidance on. He has only received a few of those calls this year.

Cenac described the type of audits that take place aboard lift boats for safety purposes.

The last audit for the Seacor Power occurred in March 2021, Cenac said. He scheduled the auditors but was not aboard the vessel during those audits. Cenac said that he hasn't yet reviewed the completed audit of the Seacor Power.

Cenac described Stop Work Authorities as "the best tool the industry has" allowing a stop in operations when functions of a job are believed to be unsafe. These can be reported by the crew and include when the vessel is exceeding weather capacity. These types of reports, Cenac testified, are encouraged.

A Stop Work Authority is resolved when all parties off interest are satisfied. Seacor Marine averages two to four a week, Cenac said, regarding the vessels he oversees.

Each Stop Work Authority is documented and, Cenac said, voyage plans are updated.

On the day of the incident, Cenac said that he did not speak to Seacor Power directly. He said that he was alerted to a 'slip, trip, fall' incident on board the boat that morning.

The first phone call he received about the capsizing was a transferred call from the Seacor Dispatch at around 4:30 pm while he was at home. It was the captain of the Rockfish who gave details of the capsizing directly to Cenac including information that the Coast Guard, the cutter Glenn Harris and other good Samaritan vessels were on scene.

Cenac said he then spoke to Seacor General Manager Joey Ruiz to relay the information. Ruiz told Cenac during their call that he was already aware of the capsizing.

Following their call, Cenac said he began notifying the coast guard of the incident and began crisis management operations.

He called different coast guard offices until reaching the New Orleans sector and spoke to Lt. Seth Gross. He said that even though the Coast Guard was on scene, Gross had no knowledge of the capsizing.

Cenac said he provided information indicating that 18 people were on board the vessel and then followed up later by email that their were 19 people on board.

Lt. Gross reportedly told Cenac they had received conflicting information from a survivor on board who said their were 17 crewmembers. Cenac said he made sure to reconfirm that there were 19 on board.

Lt. Gross testified last week that the New Orleans office received conflicting reports from Seacor Dispatch, a survivor and Seacor Marine of the number of persons on board the Seacor Power. Gross also testified that an initial call to Seacor dispatch, which was listed on the EPIRB beacon alert, indicated that the Seacor Power was still in port and had not capsized.

That information, he later learned, was incorrect.

Cenac described how next of kin of the crewmembers were notified and how information was provided.

The next of kin process started small with Seacor Marine Human Resources taking the lead. The operation was expanded with the help of Coast Guard and other agencies. Clients on board the Seacor Power at the time of the capsizing handled their own next of kin notification.

The information was brought together, Cenac said, and communicated to all families of those affected. That information was gathered together so that families could be notified before media was.

Around 7:00 pm, Cenac said that Coast Guard incident command was changed from Seth Gross to Michelle Ferguson. She spoke directly to them with updates from the Coast Guard. The coast guard gave Seacor Marine their direct line to contact them at any time, Cenac said.

Will Watson took over from Ferguson and was direct Coast Guard contact for Seacor Marine from that point on.

Cenac said that Joey Ruiz established an on scene command post at Bollinger in Port Fourchon following the incident. Cenac arrived later that night along with other responding agencies that were providing assistance for the incident.

The notification chain included a Microsoft teams call and ran through the entire week of the incident. Everyone, Cenac said, was online that night and making crisis management plans.

A program manager with Donjon-SMIT, which provides salvaging and firefighting operations, called Cenac about 45 minutes after the capsizing of the Seacor Power. Donjon offered to provide services, including a six man dive team a dive master and assistant. Seacor Marine chartered a flight to get the team to Port Fourchon. The advised that they could be at the Seacor Power capsizing scene around midnight on April 13.

Boats were chartered to get the dive team to the scene, according to Cenac. The dive operations were considered high risk by the Coast Guard and unable to be conducted that night due to the capsizing scene and weather conditions.

The coast guard approved the dive plan mid to late morning the next day, according to Cenac.

Cenac said even with a dive plan approved, weather conditions would not have allowed them to safely dive that week. The Coast Guard had also issued a stand down for search and rescue due to weather.

Cenac said that the Seacor Brave was the first Seacor vessel to arrive on the scene of the capsizing. He said that there were no active Seacor vessels in the area that could have responded to the scene. He was unsure of when the vessel responded. All other vessels that responded were third party.

When asked, Cenac said Seacor Marine does have access to request emergency response services from companies like Bristow Helicopters. They did not have to on the night of the incident because Bristow had already arrived on scene following the capsizing. The flight crew testified of their response last week.

An incident investigation is ongoing into the Seacor Power capsizing and Cenac said they are still in the fact-finding portion of the investigation.

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Following a break for lunch, Seacor Marine Alt DPA and Auditor Barrett Charpentier testified.

Charpentier works as a QHSE Superinetndent at Seacor Marine and has been in the position for two years. His responsibilities include visiting vessels, doing internal audits and maintaining client databases. Those databases allow clients to pre-evaluate the company's records.

Cenac serves as his direct supervisor.

He said that he oversees vessels globally.

He answers phone calls from masters and answers any questions they may have while also working on projects within the QHSE department.

Charpentier said he visits vessels in port about every week. Currently, most vessel visits are done remotely due to COVID-19.

He said he does have experience with liftboats.

As an alternate DPA with Seacor Marine, Charpentier said that he very rarely received calls from ships, if ever. He could not recall the last time he received a call.

He is involved in the support of auditing to prove that the company and vessels are in compliance by providing internal audit documents. He has been involved in at least two DOC audits while at Seacor Marine.

Pre-covid, Charpentier said that he would be on vessel during external safety audits to provide support if necessary. The company, he said, would conduct an internal audit for the vessels before the external audit was completed.

He was involved with the March 2021 audit of the Seacor Power. It was not his first audit of the Seacor Power. He had conducted two others in 2019 and 2020. He said there is nothing specific or different about auditing a liftboat. The audits are never unannounced.

Charpentier described some of his auditing duties during testimony on Wednesday.

He said that the most recent audit has not been finalized.

Charpentier said that following his audit he did not see any problems that showed any safety concerns for the vessel or the crew.

On April 13, Charpentier said that he was not aware of any phone calls made to or received from the Seacor Power. He said he would remember a call made to them. Charpentier was a supporting role and was directed by Cenac and attended to first mate Bryan Mires after his recovery and reunited him with his family. He also made contact with all other vessels operating on the scene of the capsizing.

In questioning from Paul Sterbcow, representative for Bryan Mires, Charpentier recalled being with Mires as he came off of the boat from rescue and was kept at Port Fourchon. He recalled their trip from the Port into Houma where he was taken for lunch at a gas station and to several Walmarts. Mires was then brought to a hotel in Houma where he awaited to be reunited with his family. Charpentier said that was the last time he had contact with Mires.

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Seacor General Manager Joey Ruiz was the final person to testify on Wednesday.

He has worked in his current position for two years and has worked for the company since 2007.

Ruiz said that his job is to check emails and weather forecast for the region. He contacts the ops managers to make sure there are no issues with the vessels.

He attends meetings and verifies that special projects are going on as normal.

Ruiz said he oversees 8 vessels in the Gulf. Five are liftboats. The are currently about 10 vessels that are not in operation that he oversees.

Ruiz said he sometimes goes out to visit to vessels and speaks with crews to ensure that vessels and operations are maintained. He also gives the vessels a general overview.

On the day of the capsizing, April 13, Ruiz said he started his day normally.

During the afternoon he was in his truck when he received a phone call from a former coworker who mentioned that the Seacor Power had capsized.

That person was on the phone with the captain of the Rockfish.

Ruiz said that Michael Cenac called to alert him of the capsizing and that coast guard was being contacted.

Following the call with Cenac, Ruiz said he reached out to Paul Fremin who told him he was trying to get into contact with the vessel but was unsuccessful.

Cenac, Ruiz said, opened a Microsoft Teams meeting with members of Seacor Marine to get all information.

In an effort to get a team on the ground, Ruiz said he went home, packed a bag and headed to Port Fourchon to set up a command center. He contacted Bollinger and was able to set up command at one of the trailers at the Port.

Ruiz said that on his way to Fourchon an 18-wheeler had flipped and caused him to be stuck in traffic. He was able to stay connected with his team via the Microsoft Teams meeting.

Once he was finally there, Ruiz said that Cenac and others alerted that the team was headed down to the Port. At the port, they made contact with Donjon SMIT the salvage company for recovery efforts.

Ruiz said that many good Samaritan vessels offered support during that time as the operations were underway.

Ruiz said that the decision was made to crew the Seacor Brave in Morgan City and for it to get underway to Fourchon. After midnight, on the morning of April 14, Ruiz said the vessel hit a snag in Houma after the Navigation Canal Swing Bridge operator would not open the bridge due to high water.

The vessel had to be rerouted through Bayou Chene to get to Fourchon.

Ruiz said while the Brave was being rerouted, Talos offered a vessel for use in diving operations. Ruiz said that the boat could not be used for those dive operations. Another vessel was chartered but it was unable to be used because of a marine equipment issue.

On the 15, the Seacor Brave was finally able to make it to the scene of the capsizing.

Ruiz said dive operations were difficult following the event due to weather conditions. A Seacor Marine technical superintendent was on board the Brave indicating to divers the layout of the Seacor Power for search operations.

Ruiz said that crew members were found deceased in the engine room and the O2 level of the Seacor Power during those dives. Ruiz said that the divers had to search by touch because visibility was low.

When asked about the Seacor Marine dispatchers, Ruiz said they work to provide weather reports to vessels and understand how to identify coordinates. They are also tasked with getting vehicles and supplies for crews.

He said they mostly act as point of contacts for Seacor Marine and will transfer calls to their correct locations within Seacor Marine. Dispatchers are trained to call operations or safety department to get any information on incidents to those who can handle them, according to Ruiz. If they are away, calls are directed to their phones. Ruiz said that they have access to track vessels that are traveling long distances. But not for tracking day to day operations.

For notifying next of kin, Ruiz said that work began on April 13 and other clients began alerting the next of kin of their employees.

Informational meetings were held between all companies for families, Ruiz believes, on the 14.

Ruiz said that following the incident, some best practices have been put into place. Those include getting site specific weather for vessels before they get underway. Those are pulled by the captain and added to their pre-departure email.

Logs are also being added to include what rooms and stations those on board the vessel are staying. This, Ruiz said, would be kept on board and emailed to keep track of those who are on board.

WATCH

Sessions can be watched online at this link: https://livestream.com/uscginvestigations.

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RECAP FROM WEEK 2 :Day 6 and 7

DAY 6

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.

Day 7

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.

Timmons described operations on board the Seacor Power at the time of his voyage and said that there were no issues. Notably, Timmons explained that before coming into Port Fourchon at the end of their job a storm caused the ship to lose a life raft and sustain damage to a grating on the starboard leg tower.

Timmons noted that during that weather system he did not receive alerts from any of the weather devices on the bridge.

Also testifying on Tuesday was Off-boat Chief Engineer James Endres.

Endres described his work on the Seacor Power and the functioning of the vessel prior to his disembarkation.

Seacor Operations Manager Paul Fremin provided the final testimony on Tuesday. Fremin 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.

Fremin said on the morning of April 13, he called Captain David Ledet for an update on that morning's crew change. Fremin testified that he 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.

Fremin would receive one last communication with Ledet via 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."

Fremin'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.

Fremin 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.

Read more from Tuesday's testimony, here.

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BELOW IS A RECAP OF WEEK 1

DAY 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.

DAY 2

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.

Day 3

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.

DAY 4

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.

DAY 5
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.

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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: accidentinfo@uscg.mil

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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