On April 13, 2021, the people of Louisiana and across the U.S. were reminded yet again how dangerous and deadly the Gulf of Mexico can be for offshore workers. The Seacor Power liftboat transporting workers capsized just hours after leaving Port Fourchon, where a storm passed through in the hours before departure. Of the 19 individuals on board, only six were rescued; six bodies were recovered, and the remaining seven were presumed dead.
In October 2022, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its final report following a year-and-a-half-long investigation into the cause of the maritime disaster. The devastated families of those who lost their lives, along with the six survivors and the rest of the nation, have been anxiously awaiting an answer to who’s at fault for the Seacor Power accident.
The results of the NTSB investigation detail the dangerous weather conditions the Seacor Power liftboat encountered. It noted that the unexpected squalls and intense winds left the vessel unstable and ultimately led to its capsizing as the crew took steps to try to wait out the storm. What followed was a delicate and challenging rescue operation because of choppy waters, poor visibility, and high winds.
In addition to the probable cause of the Seacor Power accident outlined in the final report by the NTSB, several recommendations were made to improve maritime workers’ safety. Whether these recommendations are implemented remains to be seen, but one thing is clear: Offshore workers face many dangers, and we must do everything possible to reduce risks and stop preventable tragedies from occurring in offshore accidents.
Cause of the Seacor Power Accident
Offshore jobs are some of the riskiest professions in the U.S. Each year, maritime accidents happen in the Gulf, Great Lakes, rivers and oceans, causing workers to suffer serious, and often fatal, offshore accident injuries.
During the investigation into the Seacor Power accident, the National Transportation Safety Board built a timeline of events leading up to the boat capsizing and rescue efforts. They investigated who made the decision to leave Port Fourchon, what the forecast was versus what the crew experienced, and weather communications between the various parties in contact that day. They also looked into whether there was pressure from Seacor Marine to start the journey in unsafe conditions.
The NTSB determined that the probable cause of the Seacor Power capsizing was due to intense wind from thunderstorms. As the vessel’s legs were being lowered, the ship’s mate turned the boat into the wind in an attempt to slow it down, but as it turned, it heeled over. The liftboat capsized just before 4 p.m. The final Seacor Power report noted that the high winds exceeded the vessel’s operational wind speed limits.
It also stated that there were contributing factors that led to the loss of life, including the speed of the liftboat when it capsized, the angle of the vessel’s resting place, and the weather conditions that made rescue efforts difficult.
Recommendations in the Seacor Power Final Report
Due to the tragic loss of 13 lives, the NTSB made several recommendations in the final Seacor Power report. They recommended that the National Weather Service, Federal Aviation Administration, and Air Force “work together” to determine if lower radar angles at weather radar sites could be done safely and if it’s appropriate to do so. The current angles meant the weather information for the coastal area where the Seacor accident occurred could not catalog the dangerous conditions.
The NTSB also made safety recommendations to the U.S. Coast Guard:
- Develop procedures for communicating to mariners when outages at navigational telex broadcasting sites occur.
- Adjust stability regulations for newly constructed restricted-service liftboats.
- Develop procedures for mass rescue operations plans that include air rescue providers at the commercial, municipal, and non-profit levels.
For the fourth time, the NTSB recommended the Coast Guard require vessel employees to be provided with a personal locator beacon. In the case of the Seacor Power accident and the factors that hindered rescue operations, these beacons may have saved more lives. Since 1982, personal locators have proven invaluable, saving hundreds of people each year.
The final recommendation in the NTSB report was to the Offshore Marine Service Association. They recommended the Association should notify its members of both the availability and value of locator beacons.
Dangers of Offshore Jobs
Offshore workers face many dangers when transported to job sites and performing their duties. With Louisiana being on the Gulf of Mexico, hundreds of thousands of people in the state are employed in offshore industry work. So many Americans depend on these jobs, but they all face an increased risk of offshore accident injuries.
Some safety hazards and dangers of maritime work include slips and falls, poor and fast-changing weather conditions, oil and gas leaks, and heavy machinery and equipment use. Common causes of offshore injuries are explosions, lack of equipment training, faulty or loose equipment and machinery, extreme weather, and unsafe work practices. Employee fatigue is another cause of offshore accidents because these jobs typically involve long hours of physically demanding work.
Far too often, maritime accident injuries occur because of negligence on the part of individuals and companies; equipment that doesn’t meet safety regulations, poor decision-making, and pressure to work in unsafe conditions are causes of offshore accidents. When a company puts profits above safety or fails to ensure safe work environments, the workers and their families suffer the consequences.
Common maritime injuries include broken bones, respiratory conditions, back injuries, burns, and brain injuries. These can be life-changing, traumatic, and often fatal. Holding companies responsible for causing offshore injuries is crucial, not just for the injured worker, their family, or the surviving family of a worker killed in maritime accidents, but also to advocate for improved safety and life-saving changes in the industry. An experienced offshore accident attorney can help those affected by these tragedies to be compensated for a range of damages.
Maritime Laws & Keeping Offshore Workers Safe
Maritime law is complex. There’s specific legislation to protect offshore workers and hold owners, operators, and contractors accountable for their decisions and actions. There’s general maritime law, as well as the Jones Act, Death on the High Seas Act, and the Longshoremen and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. The applicable laws when an offshore accident occurs depend on where it happened and the type of job the injured worker held.
Under maritime legislation, injured workers may seek compensation and justice, and the families of lost loved ones may also take legal action against negligent companies. Even workers who build, service and load ships or perform other duties related to offshore work are protected under the Longshoremen & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. After all, these workers also face dangers and increased risks of injuries due to unsafe conditions.
When determining liability in offshore accident injuries like Seacor Power, whoever decides to leave port is crucial. Those who could be sued with a personal injury lawsuit are Seacor Marine, Talos (the company that commissioned the boat), the crew, or a combination of these parties.
So far, the application of maritime law in the Seacor Power accident has led to 11 lawsuits being settled with surviving family and rescued crew. Compensation amounts are confidential, and some lawsuits are still being negotiated. There are also pending claims against a salvage company and the shipbuilder.
The Seacor lawsuits allege the liftboat wasn’t seaworthy and that the crew was sent on their journey regardless of the known, dangerous weather conditions in its path. They claim negligence and violations of maritime laws, but Seacor Power has publicly denied the allegations.
How an Offshore Injury Attorney Can Help
When tragedies like the Seacor Power accident occur, those injured, the surviving family, and whole communities are affected. Following the devastating loss of 13 lives, serious questions were raised about why the liftboat capsized, if it could have been prevented, and who, if anyone, was responsible. The NTSB’s final Seacor Power report laid blame on the weather while also noting valuable changes that could improve rescue operations and possibly prevent some offshore accidents from occurring.
But even when no company is found to be responsible in these types of investigations, offshore injury lawsuits can still be filed by victims and their families. Offshore workers perform dangerous jobs and face numerous risks every day. Some are preventable, like when workers are poorly trained, or equipment doesn’t meet safety regulations, while other offshore accident injuries are caused by sudden extreme weather. Regardless of the cause, maritime accidents often result in severe injuries and fatalities.
When someone is injured on the journey to an offshore job site or while performing their job duties, consulting with a maritime law attorney is important. There are widespread, lifelong effects of offshore accident injuries and deaths, and a lawsuit against those liable can ensure financial stability and hold companies that had a role in the tragedy responsible.
The Louisiana offshore injury attorneys at Herman, Herman & Katz can help injured crewmembers transporting workers, oil rig workers, underwater welders, and other offshore professionals with our extensive experience and understanding of maritime law. Contact us online or at 1-844-943-7626 for a free consultation.
Jed Cain is a partner with Herman, Herman & Katz, LLC. He has dedicated his career to representing injured folks and their families.