Investigation into Louisiana boat capsizing highlights how locator beacons could save lives
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Investigation into Louisiana boat capsizing highlights how locator beacons could save lives

Jul 21, 2023

Report finds hurricane-force winds were key reason Seacor Power vessel overturned

The results of an investigation into the deadly capsizing of an oil industry boat off Louisiana's coast that killed 13 mariners in April 2021 has underlined how personal beacons could save lives and "take the search out of search and rescue", the US transportation safety board chairperson said on Tuesday.

The report into the capsizing of the Seacor Power during severe weather in the Gulf of Mexico concluded that hurricane-force winds, rather than any other suspected factor, were the primary reason the vessel overturned.

Rescue efforts were hampered by rough seas, winds and the fact that the boat flipped upside down, officials said during a National Transportation Safety Board meeting.

Six crew members were discovered dead and seven have never been found. Only six of the crew are known to have survived.

Officials also flagged other factors in the disaster: for instance, investigators confirmed that a technical problem prevented the captain, David Ledet, from receiving warnings about the potent storm into which his crew was sailing.

But the board chair, Jennifer Homendy, said what haunted her most was the lack of requirement for those on board to wear personal locator beacons.

As required, the ship was outfitted with a vessel locator, known as an emergency position-indicating radio beacon, or EPIRB. An alert from that device along with distress calls from nearby ships helped clue rescuers into the disaster, which in its human toll was deadlier than the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf that killed 11 people.

Yet there is no requirement for crew members to wear smaller personal beacons, which can lead rescuers to within 300ft of an overboard mariner's position, Homendy said.

The search for survivors was longer and more expansive without the individual beacons, Homendy said, claiming they can limit search areas to three miles. Board officials noted that three of the Seacor Power crew members were rescued seven miles away in under three hours. With personal beacons, Homendy said, "how many more survivors might there have been?"

The NTSB has pushed to require such devices after a series of other deadly capsizings since 2015, but the US Coast Guard has resisted, saying only that it would soon propose new rules on the topic. Homendy said employers should be more proactive in imposing their own internal requirements.

"We cannot – must not – wait any longer," Homendy said. "You can improve safety today. The lifesaving promise of [these beacons] cannot be overstated."

The Seacor Power's crew was headed from Port Fourchon, about 100 miles south-west of New Orleans, to service an offshore oil platform and was preparing to anchor itself to the sea floor when it overturned.

Ledet's widow sued the vessel's owner, alleging that the captain was under corporate pressure to defy the dangerous weather and stay on schedule. Officials on Tuesday said there was no evidence that Ledet was under such pressure. The company has settled some of the wrongful death lawsuits it has faced since the disaster while others remain pending.

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