This week, news out of the Louisiana offshore industry hasn’t been good. On Tuesday afternoon, a commercial lift boat called the Seacor Power left Port Fourchon during a storm. It was supposed to travel approximately 100 miles to a platform owned by Talos Energy in Main Pass 138. Instead, the vessel made it about seven miles before capsizing because of severe weather. The vessel is owned and operated by Seacor Marine.
That day, the Gulf region of Louisiana was hit hard by a strong storm. New Orleans and the surrounding areas had heavy rain and high winds that caused extensive damage. Eventually, the storm moved over the Gulf, triggering a rare weather event known as a wake low. The Seacor Power was only a few hours into its journey when it tipped over. Good Samaritans and Coast Guard responders were able to pull six survivors from the water. By Thursday morning, one person’s body had been recovered and 12 more crew members of the Seacor Power were still missing.
Due to the media's coverage of this story, many people are likely hearing of commercial lift boats for the first time. Some may be wondering what the Seacor Power's mission was and why it was out at sea during severe weather.
What Is a Commercial Lift Boat?
A commercial lift boat also referred to as a jackup barge, is an aid vessel that travels to platforms to bring them supplies, assist with construction, and accomplish other tasks. They have the ability to drop their legs to the seafloor, creating a stable platform between the boat lift and the vessel being aided.
The Seacor Power was a 129-foot lift boat with three legs. It had the capability of carrying 12 crew members, 36 passengers, and 2 special personnel. With its legs fully extended, the vessel could work at depths of 195 feet.
On Tuesday, sources indicate that the Seacor Power was on a mission to deliver equipment and supplies to the Talos Energy platform located approximately 40 miles from Boothville.
Should the Seacor Power Have Been Out During a Storm?
While jackup barges such as the Seacor Power can withstand strong storms while standing, they are far less resilient to severe weather while floating. According to one expert, lift boats can withstand gusts of about 80 mph.
On Tuesday, while the Seacor Power was traveling to Main Pass 138, it encountered winds between 80 to 90 mph. One vessel off the coast of Louisiana recorded winds of approximately 117 mph. In other words, the Seacor Power was likely navigating in conditions that were exceeding its capabilities.
David Berg, a naval architect, told local news reporters that, while they are designed to float on water, lift boats are far from graceful while doing so.
“In general, though, lift boats—you always have to watch the weather. You got to know what’s coming at you because they do have an operating envelop, limits on wind and waves,” Berg said.
What’s known about Tuesday’s events so far is that Seacor Power’s operators decided to attempt the voyage after a break in Tuesday’s bad weather. Conditions were so bad that day that the fiancée of one of the missing crew members asked him not to go out.
Other vessels at sea on Tuesday reported weather so severe that they called their families thinking it might be the last time they spoke with them. Whether Seacor Power should have been out at sea is a question that will need to be answered by an investigation.
Our Seacor Power attorneys will continue to follow this accident as new details are revealed by officials.