NTSB releases findings on SEACOR liftboat disaster
Port Fourchon, La. (KPLC) - Federal investigators have closed the case on the 2021 SEACOR Power liftboat capsizing, which killed 13 people near Port Fourchon.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)’s final report blames the disaster on strong winds from a severe thunderstorm.
The NTSB met Tuesday to adopt a report of what happened, probable cause of the accident and recommendations for safety in the future. The full report can be found below.
The board determined that the probable cause 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.”
The board adopted the following findings about the incident:
- 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.
- Commercial pressure was not a factor in the captain’s decision to get underway.
- 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 liftboat’s operation.
- Given the conditions and the marine weather information available to the captain at the time the liftboat left Port Fourchon, the captain’s decision to get underway on the day of the casualty was reasonable; although the captain was not aware of the severe thunderstorm watch, it likely would not have changed his decision.
- 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.
- Data gaps, including a lack of low-altitude radar 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.
- 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.
- As designed, the SEACOR Power met applicable intact stability criteria.
- The 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.
- Although the SEACOR Power met stability criteria at the time of the casualty, the vessel’s trim by the stern decreased the vessel’s ability to resist capsizing.
- Operation of the SEACOR Power with trim by the stern that exceeded the limit specified in the operating manual, stability documentation, and other required guidance was an accepted practice by vessel crews.
- The SEACOR Power’s trim by the stern, its 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.
- Due to the unpredictability of localized thunderstorm phenomena and the vulnerability of restricted-service liftboats in these storms, operating a restricted-service liftboat in the afloat mode at any time when a Special Marine Warning has been issued for the vessel’s planned route increases its risk of capsizing.
- Increasing minimum stability criteria for liftboats in restricted service would improve vessel survivability in severe thunderstorms.
- The speed at which the vessel capsized and angle at which it came to rest made egress difficult and likely contributed to the fatalities.
- The 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 search and rescue units and notifying Good Samaritan vessels of the emergency.
- 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.
- SEACOR Marine did not have adequate procedures nor did it provide its staff with training for responding to the Coast Guard when contacted regarding emergency position indicating radio beacon alerts.
- A detailed procedure in Coast Guard mass rescue operations 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.
- 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.
- Mariners have benefited from their employers voluntarily providing personal locator beacons or satellite emergency notification devices.
- Had the crewmembers of the SEACOR Power been required to carry personal locator beacons on board, as recommended in Safety Recommendation M-17-45, and had they 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.
- Although not causal to the fatalities and 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.
The board also provided the below safety recommendations to prevent future disasters.
To the U.S. Coast Guard:
- Develop procedures to inform mariners in affected areas whenever there is an outage at a navigational telex broadcasting site.
- Modify restricted-service liftboat stability regulations to require greater stability for newly constructed restricted-service liftboats.
- Develop procedures to integrate commercial, municipal, and non-profit air rescue providers into Sectors’ and Districts’ mass rescue operations plans, when appropriate.
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 coastal weather radar sites without compromising aviation safety or other products, and lower the radar angle at those sites where it is appropriate.
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, and lower the radar angle at those sites where it is appropriate.
To the Offshore Marine Service Association:
- Inform your members of the circumstances of this capsizing and encourage them to implement policies to stop afloat operations for restricted-service liftboats when a Special Marine Warning has been issued for the vessel’s planned route.
- Notify your members of the availability and benefits of personal locator beacons.
To SEACOR Marine:
- Ensure your vessel crews receive timely and accurate weather forecasts tailored to each vessel’s location, including applicable National Weather Service watch and warning products when they are issued.
- Conduct a comprehensive review of your active fleet to ensure your vessels are being operated strictly within the limits specified in operating manuals, stability documentation, and other required guidance.
- Revise your restricted-service liftboat 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.
Previously issued recommendation reiterated to the U.S. Coast Guard:
- Require that all personnel employed on vessels in coastal, Great Lakes, and ocean service be provided with a personal locator beacon to enhance their chances of survival.
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