Talos Energy Inc., the company that commissioned the Seacor Power to work at one of its Gulf of Mexico oil platforms, sought Saturday to distance itself from the lift boat disaster that killed four crew members and left nine missing off the Louisiana coast.
A Talos statement said the vessel’s owner, Houston-based Seacor Marine, was in command and made the decision to depart Port Fourchon for a Talos platform near the mouth of the Mississippi River. At the time, the National Weather Service was warning of tropical storm-force winds and “suddenly higher waves” in the Gulf. Three hours after the jackup barge set out, it toppled in even stronger winds eight miles south of port.
Relatives hope some still alive inside toppled vessel in Gulf of Mexico
“The Seacor Power was in port for service and inspections for several days prior to its departure,” Talos said in a statement provided by Brian Grove, an external spokesman for the company. “The vessel was not at a Talos facility and was fully under the command of its captain and Seacor Marine, including when to depart the port.”
The statement came as the Coast Guard searched for a fifth day for any survivors from the Seacor Power’s crew of 19. Six have been rescued, and four bodies have been found.
The initial investigation into how the 234-foot long barge-like vessel turned over is focusing on the weather conditions and communications between the captain and any others involved in making the decision to leave port, said a spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, which is assisting the Coast Guard and might take over the investigation.
These vessels originated in Louisiana to ferry equipment to drilling rigs
The Seacor Power, which weighs almost 2,300 tons, left Port Fourchon on Tuesday at about 1:30 p.m. At that port, its home, control of the comings and goings of vessels rest with the oil services companies such as Seacor Marine and their clients, the offshore oil drillers and operators, said Chett Chiasson, executive director of Port Fourchon. That’s a different practice from some other regional ports,
“We don’t have a harbor master system to check them in or out,” Chiasson said. “It’s not like at the Port of New Orleans, where they have pilots maneuvering the big ships and have to get clearance, or at the Port of Morgan City, where the Coast Guard manages the system.
“Here they [the vessel captains] communicate with their dispatchers [who] are telling them … when they need them offshore and when they need them to come in. That’s how it works,” Chiasson said.
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Seacor Marine is headquartered in Houston, Texas. Its CEO, John Gellert, founder, and chairman Charles Fabrikant, haven’t responded to requests for comment. An external spokesperson for the company, Kendell Moore, said the company had no comment on Talos Energy’s statement.
Vessels such as the Seacor Power are not built for rough seas and extreme weather, operators of similiar vessels say. They have large, flat platforms – 11,000 square feet, in the case of the Seacor Power – and carry heavy cranes to lift machinery and other large objects to and from the fixed offshore platforms. Their large extendable legs are up in the air when the vessel is underway and are lowered onto the seabed to raise the barge up level with their host platforms when alongside and stationary.
The long legs – about 200 feet for Seacor Power – can make them unstable in high winds and seas.
Most accidents with lift boats have occurred when they’ve been in an elevated state, usually when one leg gives way because of shifting weight or an unstable seabed.
But the deadliest lift boat incident to date in the Gulf of Mexico, the 1989 sinking of the AVCO V, which killed 10 crew members, had similarities with the the Seacor Power. The AVCO V had been ordered to disengage from its host platform and head to port ahead of Hurricane Chantal.
The National Transportation Safety Board found the contracting oil company, Chevron, at fault for ordering the vessel to disengage too late to avoid the weather that sank it.
A team from the National Transportation Safety Board has joined the investigation into the Seacor Power incident, as the U.S. Coast Guard and …
Talos’ statement said the company offers full support to Seacor and the Coast Guard with the response effort.
“Like everyone in the offshore community, we are heartbroken and praying for everyone affected by this tragedy,” it said.