Saturday, April 24, 2021

Contract divers, private planes keep on search for Seacor Power crewmen: 'We're still out there'

President of Seacor Marine John Gellert speaks during a press conference about the capsized Seacor Power boat, at the Greater Lafourche Port Commission in Cut Off, Louisiana. The Seacor Power lift boat capsized in the Gulf of Mexico on April 13 after a storm, leaving 5 dead, 8 missing and 6 rescued.

The founder of the United Cajun Navy said Tuesday that private divers working for the owner of the capsized Seacor Power lift boat in the Gulf of Mexico had entered the submerged galley area of the ship on Tuesday, as family members of eight missing crewmen held out hope that life remains inside.

The civilian rescue fleet had two seaplanes in the air Tuesday, said Cajun Navy founder Todd Terrell, and continued the search across a wide area around the Seacor Power, which capsized hours after leaving Port Fourchon on April 13.

“We’re still out there,” Terrell said. “It’s about the fact there’s still hope.”

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search by air and sea for more survivors at sunset Monday after its seventh day. Six of the 19 crewmen aboard the Seacor Power were rescued within hours of it capsizing in a squall that came on fast and packed hurricane-force winds. The bodies of five crewmen, including that of the ship’s captain, have been recovered since.

Terrell said private planes were also ferrying family members of some of the eight missing crewmen to the hobbled jack-up barge, eight miles south of Port Fourchon.

Scott Daspit, the father of missing 30-year-old crewman Dylan Daspit, has been out daily to the scene of the catastrophic capsizing, by boat or plane, said Terrell, who said the mission was to at least “bring closure to these people.”

A relative of the Daspits, Katelyn Bienvenu, said family members were waiting to know if airtight doors to the galley were sealed off, thinking that might have kept crewmen alive.

“The families are holding onto hope,” she said.

Terrell and Bienvenu both said later Tuesday that divers had cleared the galley by mid-afternoon and had two rooms remaining to be searched, in a painstaking crawl through murky water. No other crew members had been found Tuesday, they said.  

A spokesperson for Seacor Marine declined to provide details on the progress of the dive team but said that the divers work will continue until “they’ve exhausted their search.”

John Gellert, president and CEO of Seacor Marine Holdings Inc., said Monday that the search of the vessel would continue even as the National Transportation Safety Board takes the lead in investigating the fatal capsizing.

Gellert said the "go/no-go decision" to depart Port Fourchon in bad weather was "entirely the captain's.” He described the boat’s captain as a "very prudent and conservative" mariner with five decades of experience.

Gellert noted that the storm came on fast and far exceeded projections. Unlike some other ports in Louisiana, there's no harbor master system at Port Fourchon to clear vessels to come and go, according to Chett Chiasson, executive director of Port Fourchon.

Speaking at an anniversary event in New Orleans for the Deepwater Horizon disaster 11 years ago, retired U.S. Army Lt. General Russel Honoré of Baton Rouge, who led the Katrina response, saw parallels to that marine tragedy. 

"Let me get to the bottom line: We have a problem in Louisiana with safety when it comes to the oil and gas business," Honoré said. "Anything is okay. Here we have, in 11 years, two of the biggest accidents in the Gulf off the coast of Louisiana."

The Deepwater Horizon disaster killed 11 workers.

Honoré saw a lack of oversight in relying on the captain.

"I hope the NTSB will recommend that there be a Captain of the Port assigned to Port Fourchon. That when there is a weather warning, he cannot only tell boats to come into harbor, but he can tell them don’t leave," Honoré said. 

Gellert pointed to an unexpectedly ferocious storm on Monday, saying the positioning of an exposed leg from the lift-boat suggested the captain had made a brief attempt to extend those legs to the seafloor before the Seacor Power capsized. 

Those legs extend almost 200 feet in normal use, allowing the jack-up barge to service oil platforms from above the water. 

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