Formal public hearings continued Tuesday, August 3, on the April capsizing of the liftboat Seacor Power.
The hearing began at 8:00 am at the Courtyard Marriot Hotel in Houma.
A hearing on Monday, August 2, was the first of a two-week long schedule that will continue until August 13.
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.
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.
"Then you're getting beat up and then you're begging God to please calm the seas please calm the seas, then you're talking to your dead mom and you're saying you're not ready to see her," Lewis said.
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.
On Tuesday, the Seacor Power's first mate, Bryan Mires, testified.
Mires gave testimony about his experiences during the capsizing of the lift boat and 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.
Prior to departure, the two reportedly checked the five day forecast which Mires said showed normal weather conditions. The night before, Mires said he checked the Weather Channel app which showed rain. He said he was not concerned by the forecast.
Mires answered questions regarding the weather reporting system on board the Seacor Power at the time of the incident. He said weather reports are printed out via the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System and NAVTEX Receiver. Mires said that the GMDSS covers a wide area and is not very precise for weather warnings.
Mires said that he did not hear any warnings on the channel where he was monitoring weather. He told the Coast Guard that he had never heard weather warnings on that channel.
When asked if there was any internet access on the bridge to receive weather warnings, Mires said that there was none.
During the hearing Mires was asked about the use of a "Stop Work Authority" in the event of inclement weather.
Mires said that he did not recall using the authority at any time during his work on the Seacor Power liftboat but that Captain Ledet had made those decisions at one time.
Mires said that, in the past, some company men had attempted to continue to work when bad weather was predicted, but there hadn't been any instances in his recent memory. The use of Stop Work Authority, according to Mires, was followed when directed.
Two Stop work Authority forms shown during Tuesday's hearing show that the Seacor Power stopped work on two instances in May and September of 2020 due to winds at 30 to 35 mph.
Antonia Apps, who is representing Seacor Marine in the investigation, noted in her questioning to Mires that the winds documented in the "Stop Work" forms were lower than the 80 knot winds encountered by the Seacor Power on April 13.
Apps asked Mires several questions regarding the vessels cargo, non-slip decking and about the functioning of the NAVTEX Receiver on board.
Mires said that the Receiver was operational the day of the incident.
When asked by the Coast Guard if there was anything that could be done to prevent future capsizing incidents, Mires responded that more communication would be beneficial.
"The GMDSS, because it covers such a wide area, if they can get it narrowed down that would help out," he said. "More communication with the office about weather and getting into the habit of checking weather and not relying on someone else."
Coast Guard SAR Systems Specialist Edwin Thiedeman testified on Tuesday afternoon about the functioning of on-vessel devices that emit distress signals when activated.
One such device, which was present on the Seacor Power, was an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or EPIRB. The device, according to Thiedeman, emits distress signals on vessels that have become submerged.
EPIRBs are water activated when removed from their mounting bracket. If inside the bracket, they must be manually activated in two steps. Thiedeman said anyone, even those without training, could easily activate the device.
Once activated, a flashing light corresponds with the transmitted signal. The satellite detected signal is then sent to a ground station for processing. Beacon signals, according to Thiedeman, can be detected within 30 minutes or less depending on the satellite, low-Earth orbit or Geostationary, detecting the signal.
"No alert fails to get delivered," he said.
During testimony, Thiedeman also spoke about the function and activation of Search and Rescue Transmitters or SARTs on vessels.
He said that all devices are easy to activate and will indicate to survivors that the device is functioning with a green light. There are two types of SARTs, radar and AIS.
Several Coast Guard vessels are equipped with technology to detect one or both types of SART.
Thiedeman said that vessels under the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) are required to have a SART. He said that SARTs should be checked regularly and those checks recorded.
During his testimony on Tuesday, Seacor Power First Mate Bryan Mires said that the SART on the vessel at the time of the incident was non-functioning. Thiedeman said that he is only aware of battery failure causing these devices to be non-functional.
Mires, according to his representative, was holding a SART while in the water following the capsizing.
According to a document presented during the hearing, a Geostationary or GEO satellite detected a beacon signal from the Seacor Power and was unable to return coordinates for the vessel. The document also showed that the Seacor's EPIRB beacon did not have a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) or Global Positioning System (GPS) device installed.
Thiedeman said he could not tell whether the heavy rains that day caused any disruption in the detection of the signal by satellites.
Sessions can be watched online at this link: https://livestream.com/uscginvestigations.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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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