Offshore workers could soon be required to wear life jackets with beacons while commuting over Gulf

Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 7:28 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WVUE) - A bill designed to help offshore workers who end up in the Gulf of Mexico after mishaps is advancing in the Louisiana legislature, to the delight of a family who lost a son after a helicopter crash.

House Bill 398 by Rep. Troy Romero (R-Jennings) would require people being transported offshore by aircraft to wear a life jacket equipped with a personal locator beacon, a GPS-type device.

“Accidents happen,” Romero said Wednesday (April 12). “But if we can do something as a legislature for the state of Louisiana to help prevent this or to help find those people, or even their bodies when these accidents happen, it’s important.”

There have been deadly accidents in the Gulf in recent years.

In December 2022, a helicopter crashed in the water near Southwest Pass and four people went missing. A couple of weeks before, that the US Coast Guard rescued three people after another helicopter crashed while attempting to land on an oil rig platform.

And in April 2021, the Seacor Power liftboat capsized in severe weather near Port Fourchon with 19 people on board. According to the National Transportation Safety Board, six were rescued, six died and seven are missing and presumed dead.

Romero said the requirement for personal beacons was supposed to be part of earlier legislation known as “Jacob’s Law,” but was stripped out.

“At that time, they talked about these locator devices and it was too expensive,” he said. “Now those devices have come down. ... You can actually get them for around $200.”

In 2008, Jacob Matt was killed in a chopper crash.

“Jacob Matt, who is from my district, was in a helicopter crash in the Gulf,” Romero said. “His body washed up in Galveston five days later. The autopsy showed that he was probably alive for some time in the Gulf, but they couldn’t find him because there was no locator device.”

Rep. Candace Newell (D-New Orleans) said cost should not impede progress on offshore worker safety.

“I’m sorry that it was the cost that stopped us from moving forward with protecting lives,” Newell said.

Romero’s bill sailed out of the committee and will be debated by the full House of Representatives.

“We don’t want to hurt the industry,” Romero said. “But I think it is the proper time to require this.”

Diana Matt -- Jacob’s mother -- said she is thankful to Romero for shepherding the bill requiring locator beacons. She said some of Jacob’s friends continue to work offshore and she does not know if they have access to the devices.

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