U.S says capsized vessel never received weather warning

U.S says capsized vessel never received weather warning

A U.S. Coast Guard commander says a technical issue prevented the guard from relaying warnings of severe weather to a vessel that overturned in the Gulf of Mexico in April, killing 13 crew members.

On April 13, the Seacor Power, a commercial lift boat designed to service oil platforms, capsized after encountering hurricane force winds about 20 kilometers off the coast of Louisiana with 19 people on board.  Six people were rescued the day of the accident. Since that time, four other bodies were recovered.

The Coast Guard, in the second week of hearings in New Orleans to investigate the incident, heard testimony from the National Weather Service saying the ship’s captain and crew departed Port Fourchon at about midday after getting a forecast indicating they would encounter 16 to 32 kilometer per hour winds with seas a little over a meter high, normal operating conditions for the ship.

But the weather service testified it had updated that forecast several times shortly after midday and into the afternoon.  The updates said a line of thunderstorms was forming ahead of a low pressure system and winds would likely exceed 62 km/ph. The ship encountered winds between 128 and 144 km/ph.

Coast Guard Commander Vince Taylor told the panel Tuesday that the ship never received those updates because the Coast Guard had discovered that its Global Maritime Distress and Safety System was not transmitting.

Taylor, the commanding officer of the Coast Guard Communications Command, said it identified a problem at 10:00 a.m. that morning and the system was not restored until after the Seacor Power keeled over.

He told the panel the problem was a connectivity issue, an issue he said the Coast Guard has “maybe once a year.”

In testimony last week, the ship’s first mate, Bryan Mires, told investigators he and the ship’s captain, David Ledet, attempted to lower the ship’s “legs” to steady it before it overturned. Liftboats, like the Secor Power, can float freely or deploy “legs” to secure themselves to the bottom of the ocean to support drilling or exploration.  Ledet was among those who died in the accident.

The hearings are scheduled to run through Friday, and investigators are expected to hear more testimony from survivors and owners of the ship.