12 Still Missing After Commercial Vessel Capsizes Near Louisiana

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One person was dead and six were rescued after a 129-foot lift boat capsized off Port Fourchon, La., the Coast Guard said.

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Credit…U.S. Coast Guard, via Reuters

The search continued on Wednesday night for 12 people who were missing after a commercial boat carrying 19 people capsized in the Gulf of Mexico near Louisiana in a storm on Tuesday afternoon, the authorities said. One person was dead and six had been rescued.

The vessel, a 129-foot commercial lift boat, capsized about eight miles off Port Fourchon, La., according to the Coast Guard. A spokesman for Seacor Marine, a Houston-based marine transportation company, identified the vessel as the Seacor Power.

The Coast Guard received a distress message at about 4:30 p.m. Tuesday that the boat had capsized. Six people were rescued at sea and “safely transported” back to shore, Capt. Will Watson, commander of Coast Guard Sector New Orleans, told reporters on Wednesday.

One person was found dead on the surface of the water, he said.

On Wednesday evening, as families waited anxiously for news at a local fire station, the Coast Guard said that rescue crews had searched more than 1,440 square miles, an area larger than the state of Rhode Island.

“Our rescue crews have been diligently continuing the search and rescue efforts for the missing people from the capsized vessel,” Captain Watson said in a statement. “Anytime our Coast Guard crews head out for search and rescue, it is always our hope to safely bring those people back and reunite them with their friends and families.”

News of the capsizing rippled through Port Fourchon, a major base of operations for offshore oil and gas companies that plays a role in furnishing the country with about 18 percent of its entire oil supply, according to the Greater Lafourche Port Commission.

More than 400 large supply boats traverse the port’s channels every day and about 15,000 people a month are flown to offshore oil and gas sites off Port Fourchon, the commission said.

“It’s a somber feeling we have throughout the community right now,” said Rodney J. Gisclair, Sr., the vice president of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission.

“We’re a marine community, and tragedies like this take the community to heart,” he said. “We all feel a sense of loss. I don’t want to say it’s something that it is inevitable, but it is part of our life down here.”

Lift boats are self-propelled work vessels with broad open decks and are commonly found along the Gulf Coast. They support drilling, construction and oceanic exploration and can work in shallow or deepwater settings.

Archie Chaisson III, the Lafourche Parish president, described lift vessels as “huge economic drivers” in the region.

“These guys stick around in this type of industry for a long time,” Mr. Chaisson said. “We have at least three lift companies that are based in Lafourche. Lift vessels are a huge part of our community.”

Captain Watson said it was unclear why the Seacor Power was on the water on Tuesday. It left Port Fourchon at about 1:30 p.m. and was heading east to Main Pass, about 28 miles away.

The vessel “ran into some trouble with the wind and the sea about 4 p.m.,” Mr. Chaisson said.

When the Coast Guard arrived on Tuesday, rescuers faced seven- to nine-foot waves and winds of 80 to 90 miles an hour, Captain Watson said.

Harris Cheramie, Jr., the president of the Greater Lafourche Port Commission, said the families of those who were on board the Seacor Power weren’t only from Port Fourchon, but from throughout the state.

The work is dangerous, said Mr. Cheramie, who was a mariner for more than 30 years, but “it’s just a part of life.”

“You hate to say that, but down here we’re all raised with it, and you hope for the best that it doesn’t happen, and you thank the Lord each day when you get home,” Mr. Cheramie said. He said the Seacor Power was most likely surprised by the powerful winds that knocked it over. The storm, he said, had caught other boaters by surprise, including a shrimping vessel.

“It was a freak storm,” Mr. Gisclair said.

Captain Watson said he was hopeful the Coast Guard would find survivors.

“We’re giving it all we have,” Captain Watson said. “You can’t do this work if you’re not optimistic.”

A Coast Guard official said it was possible that survivors might be trapped inside the vessel.

The boat remains capsized on its starboard side in about 50 feet of water, Captain Watson said.

The Coast Guard and private vessels were aiding in the search, Mr. Chaisson said, adding that he was concerned that weather conditions would affect them.

The weather remained treacherous during the rescue efforts on Wednesday, Captain Watson said.

Mr. Chaisson said that family members of those onboard the capsized vessel had arrived on the scene Tuesday night, and that some had either returned home or stayed in hotels overnight.

“We continue to pray for everyone who is on that vessel, as well the families, as well as the Seacor Marine families,” Mr. Chaisson said. “We continue to pray for the rescue operators who are out there continuing to help bring these people home.”

Severe weather pounded Louisiana on Tuesday, bringing wind gusts in excess of 60 miles per hour and an average of three to five inches of rain, according to the National Weather Service, which issued a flash flood watch for much of the Louisiana coast.

Bruce J. Simon, who said he lives in Cut Off, La., about 30 miles north of Port Fourchon, wrote in a Facebook post — shared more than 3,000 times — that he had never heard so many mayday calls in his life. “Waves are breaking over the bow! A liftboat flipped.”

He also said “other boats have flipped” and urged people to “pray for the Lost!” Later, Mr. Simon posted two brief videos of a rain-soaked window looking at the bow of a boat as a wave crashed over it.

A message sent to Mr. Simon through Facebook was not immediately returned.

Captain Watson said the Coast Guard was investigating why the vessel had gone out to sea during such difficult weather.

ImageA lift boat, serving as a work platform, to assemble a wind turbine, off Block Island, R.I., in 2016.
Credit…Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

Mike Ives and Lew Serviss contributed reporting.

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