Marine Experts Weigh In On Lift Boat Safety, As Search Continues

Lift boat families and industry experts speak

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - As friends and family members pray for positive outcomes, marine experts are weighing in about the safety of the lift boat industry.

One expert says such accidents used to be fairly common but industry standards were strengthened 20 years ago.

With divers prepared to descend on the ‘Seacor Power’ near Port Fourchon, In the search for 12 missing crew members, family members continue to hold out hope. Crystal Randle is the sister of missing crew member Greg Walcott, from Vermillion Parish.

“We’re still trying to stay in faith that he will be found alive,” said Randle.

“We’ve been trying to make some calls to local hospitals…but not getting much information right now…as to who has been admitted and who hasn’t,” said Missy Pitre, the sister of Quinon Pitre, a missing crewmember from St Landry Parish.

The Coast Guard says Tuesday’s storm came up rapidly, and even though the ‘Seacor Power’ was equipped with 3- 250 foot jack-up legs, marine experts say there probably wasn’t enough time to extend them and stabilize the vessel in the storm.

“The whole operation can actually take hours,” said David Bourg, an adjunct professor at UNO’s School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.

“A lift boat, when it changes the mode to elevate, you lower the legs but you also have to check the seabed and that’s an operation called preloading where you have to lower the legs down and they’re going to sink into the muddy bottom,” said Bourg.

Professor Bourg says in recent years lift boat accidents have become rare, but he says that wasn’t the case 30 years ago.

“In the early 90s I don’t want to say lift boats were completely unregulated but there were no set standards for them and accidents were frequent which prompted the Coast Guard and the industry to put forward a set of rules,” said Bourg.

Bourg says those rules have for the most part been effective, but he says they could get a new look.

“Accidents such as these always spur review and lessons learned. Whether it prompts any new regulations or not will be up to the Coast Guard,” said Bourg.

The Coast Guard has said their investigation will begin as soon as recovery efforts are concluded, as crew family members remain in limbo.

“Don’t have any words, it’s like a bomb exploding, we’re in a state of shock right now,” said Randle.

Marine experts say the hull of the ‘Seacor Power’ likely had lockable airtight chambers. It is not known whether those chambers could’ve been accessed by crewmembers during Tuesday’s storm.

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