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Seacorp Power deaths likely to exceed Deepwater Horizon

By John Howell, Sr.

Publisher Emeritus

Folks in south Louisiana had hardly time to digest the University of Colorado’s 2021 hurricane prediction (17 named storms, eight hurricanes, four major hurricanes — “well-above average season” starting June 1) when they were served a tragic reminder of their power.

There was no hurricane, but during last week a series of strong thunderstorms trained along the Gulf coast bringing heavy rains, much lightning and high winds. Then, on Tuesday, April 13, came an event that I first saw described by a TV weatherman as a “mesoscale convective vortex.” The next day they were calling it a “wake low,” but by whatever name, it formed from cyclical winds rotating over Lake Pontchartrain and swept south toward the coast and into the Gulf, supercharging already strong thunderstorms. In Grand Isle, where moored boats were capsized and buildings damaged, it was described as a “mini-hurricane.”

The winds sunk the workboat Seacorp Power with a crew of 19 aboard, gripping ever since the attention of coastal residents, so many of whom have connection with workers in the offshore drilling industry. The thunderstorms that continued for days afterward frustrated the efforts of Coast Guard personnel and volunteers whose attempts to search for survivors were hampered by constant wind, waves and rain.

Weather and marine authorities had issued strong warnings about weather before the Seacorp Power left Port Fouchon Tuesday — that was even before the wake low developed. The Seacorp Power is a lift boat or “jack” boat, so named because it carries three tall (200-250 feet or so) legs that it lowers through the shallow coastal waters to sea floor. The three legs are used to jack the boat’s hull above the water surface, creating a stable platform from which to work on oil and gas rigs (and offshore wind turbines). In its jacked position the hull of the vessel is high enough above the water to avoid problems from moderately rough seas.

However, when a lift boat is underway it is an ungainly craft because the legs are jacked up, out of the water, towering above the vessel making it top heavy. The Seacorp Power was underway Tuesday, about eight miles from the coast when it capsized from the heavy winds. Although according to marine accounts there were a host of “mayday” distress calls from the Seacorp and other vessels in the area the only loss of life involved Seacorp crew members.

Six of the 19 were rescued shortly on Tuesday. Five bodies had been recovered by Monday and eight are still missing and unaccounted for. Onshore at Port Fouchon, frustration has grown daily. Family members have maintained vigils for days, hoping for more information, now hoping against hope that their loved one somehow will be found alive. Volunteer rescue workers and Coast Guard personnel have chafed futilely against the rough weather that until Sunday hampered their searches and kept them from being able to board and search the Seacorp Power, its side jutting from the water, propped up by one of those legs laid over onto the seabed underneath.

It will be a tragedy that will become another benchmark for Gulf mariners and rig workers with a death toll that appears likely to exceed that of the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010.