Saturday, August 28, 2021

Crack-Up: The Seacor Power Tragedy, Part 1

Submerged Seacor Power. Image by Captain Josh Howard,
Captain Aaron Wilmoth, Deep South Charters

" way in hell would Scott Daspit quit searching. His son Dylan might still be alive..." (Virginia Billeaud Anderson - writes about Scott Daspit's courageous search for the seven crewmen missing from the capsized Seacor Power, as well as "Swamp People" Ronnie Adams' assistance, and lawsuits brought by Frank Spagnoletti against Seacor Marine and Talos Energy.)

Crack-Up: The Seacor Power Tragedy, Part 1

It didn’t matter that the Coast Guard suspended its search for the seven crewmen missing from the capsized Seacor Power on April 19, no way in hell would Scott Daspit quit searching. His son Dylan might still be alive. If not, he wanted Dylan’s remains. Hurricane force winds waylaid the Seacor Power eight miles south of Port Fourchon Louisiana on April 13, with nineteen people on board. A week later, six had been rescued, six bodies had been found, and seven including Dylan were missing. Daspit and search volunteers used seaplanes, motorboats, airboats, off-road vehicles, drones and cadaver dogs to comb coastal waters east and west of the wreck, reversing direction as boat captains and offshore operators reported seeing life jackets or other debris. As he boarded a seaplane on April 22, Daspit said his hope of finding anyone alive was diminishing, nevertheless he would continue, “we gotta find our people. Please everybody, pray for a miracle.”

“Ah love yall, mah BABY.” Reality TV’s Ronnie Adams (“Swamp People”) suspected God had a plan for him, so he prayed on it. Daspit’s determination to find Dylan’s remains, and hand over Dylan’s birthday card “one way or another,” (Dylan turned thirty on April 11) gave Adams his answer. He would search so the families could have “closure,” and use his social media popularity to rake-in donations to fund the search, and to assist the families. Adams’ daily videos reached wide audiences. Donald Trump sent $10,000. “We got three airboats today, we rockin and rollin, mah BABY. Please yall, we need more boats."

Scott-Daspit searches. Image from Gulf Coast
Humanitarian Efforts website
Scott Daspit organizing search volunteers. Image by
 Sophia Germer

Scott Daspit searching with Southern Boyz Outdoors.
Image Ronnie Adams facebook

Meanwhile, lawyers sharpened their knives. On April 21, the first two lawsuits were filed against Houston-based Seacor Marine LLC, the capsized vessel’s operator, and Houston-based Talos Energy, which contracted the vessel. Many more followed. The lift boat’s manufacturer Semco LLC got sued. So did Donjon-SMIT, the salvage company with divers. However, these cases might not go to trial. The cases brought against BP, Transocean and others involved in the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, with a comparable death count, never went to trial.

The companies "put money over safety and lives." This is Houston attorney Frank Spagnoletti talking to NBC. Only a fool would underestimate Spagnoletti, behind the stringy ponytail, MAGA cap and good ole boy grin is a first-rate scholar with an eight-cylinder legal mind and 40 years of similar cases under his belt. One of the lawsuits he filed was on behalf of Dylan’s wife Hannah Daspit, seeking damages in excess of $25 million. It alleges violation of the Jones Act, which governs maritime law, gross negligence and unseaworthiness. “Seacor blames the captain, OK, and what’s the captain supposed to do? Blame the guys on the deck because they didn’t see the weather coming? Gimme a break! The buck stops at the top.”

Dylan’s death was caused, the suit reads, by “the negligence and/or gross negligence of Seacor, and unseaworthiness of the vessel.” Despite dangerous weather conditions in the Gulf, “the SEACOR Power, at the direction and control of the charterer Talos, left Port Fourchon, Louisiana, with disregard for the deteriorating weather and the lives of the crew members on board the vessel.” Surprisingly, the document mentions Scott Daspit’s search for his son, even though Daspit isn’t a party to the lawsuit. “Since the incident,” Scott Daspit, “has personally searched the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and surrounding shoreline where the vessel was lost, by both air and sea, looking for his son with hope and a prayer.”

Seacor Marine’s parent company quickly countersued. Falcon Global Offshore LLC, owner of Seacor Marine LLC and Seacor Liftboats LLC, said it used due diligence to maintain a seaworthy vessel, could not have reasonably anticipated the forces of nature that hammered the boat, the capsize was "not due to any fault, neglect or want of care" on Falcon’s part, Falcon is not responsible, and has limited liability. Talos Energy essentially said this wasn’t on them. The Seacor Power “was not at a Talos facility and was fully under the command of its captain and Seacor Marine.”

Swamp person Ronnie Adams understood the power of his social media videos to pull in donations for search expenses and to help the families of the missing. Images of Daspit wading through water looking for his child, of food delivered to search volunteers, and corporation bigwigs forking over checks, communicated effectively indeed. Adams videoed the Crawfish Cook-Off fundraiser held at Nikki’s Bar for missing crewman Chaz Morales’ family. He videoed seven years old Mylee Fontenot handing to Daspit the $1300 she earned with her lemonade stand, charging $1 a cup. Daspit cried while he thanked Mylee for “working hard on behalf of Dylan and the other guys,” and Adams cried while he videoed. Wearing an “Oil Field Strong” t-shirt, little Mylee watched those two guys lose-it and never flinched. One video didn’t go as planned. Adams put the camera on Chaz Morales’ mother Darra Morales and Chaz’s children, except Darra cried so much her asthma kicked-in, she couldn’t breathe, and everyone scrambled to find her inhaler. “Where’s her breathing thing?”

Thousands of others besides Ronnie Adams donated and raised money to help the families of the missing crewmen. I sent $100.

There was a moment of hope on April 25 when searchers found three hard hats and eight life jackets from the Seacor Power near the shore between Port Fourchon and Cocodrie. Unfortunately, nothing turned-up in the debris. On May 13 a lifeguard found a hardhat on the beach at Port Aransas Texas, nearly 600 miles west of the wreck. It was Dylan’s. Scott Daspit’s relentlessness got media attention. How long could he bare to consult shoreline maps, organize search volunteers, and comb the waters for “a foul smell” or an arm? Daspit said in a June 8 TV interview he would search for the missing until his heart or God “tells me I got enough.” Hopefully he could find “closure for the families.”

The families, acutely aware that the missing might be in the mud-buried part of the vessel divers couldn’t reach, awaited salvage. Salvage turned into a fiasco. The Seacor Power is a barge-like boat measuring 175 feet by 103 feet, with 2,276 gross tonnage. Its three 265-feet long legs ride above water, until they are lowered to the seafloor. This monster carries two 185-ton cranes. Ideally, after draining the boat’s 20,350 gallons of diesel fuel, salvagers could lift it in one piece, and barge it to shore to be searched and inspected. Except the submerged structure was a cracked-up mess. The salvage company’s sonar and divers, approximately 17, reported a separated hull, broken legs, helicopter deck snapped off, stern jack house “severely compressed,” cranes “slid down their legs.” The Seacor Power, salvagers communicated, “severely penetrated the sea floor.”

Inevitably, the Coast Guard United Command announced on June 9 it was necessary to salvage the boat in sections, a confounding debacle that naturally sent Daspit into orbit. Salvagers would wrap the openings of each section with safety netting and transport them to a secure facility for inspection, the families were told. A month later on July 8 salvagers recovered the bow section. Both engine rooms and the control room, the families were informed, “were cleared with no discoveries.” Next, salvage crews recovered the starboard leg from the seafloor. To date, the stern section, with living quarters, remains submerged.

On August 13 the Coast Guard completed a public hearing with survivors, Seacor lawyers and National Transportation Safety Board investigators participating. Testimony revealed the weather was not threatening when the boat departed Port Fourchon for Main Pass 138, but rapidly worsened. Bryan Mires, a survivor pulled from the water, testified he had never before seen a storm of this type unleashed, the seas quickly changed from 2 to 4 feet to a brutal 10 to 12 feet. Dwayne Lewis testified that the seas were 2 to 3 feet when the rain began. By the time Lewis who was washed into the sea was rescued, seas were 10 to 12 feet. On August 17, Daspit shared an update on salvage operations that he and the other families received. Weather prevented one of the salvage barges from conducting operations at the wreck location. “Eagle is on location with divers dredging. Monitoring weather for ground swells caused by tropical system Fred to subside, so Chesapeake can return.” To date, Dylan Daspit, Jay Guevara, Chaz Morales, Gregory Walcott, Jason Krell, Darren Encalade, Cooper Rozands remain missing.

Coast Guard scans water from Cutter Glenn Harris.
Image Gerald Hebert-Associated Press
Salvage of Seacor Power. Image by
Coast Guard Brendan Freeman
Salvage of Seacor Power.  Image from Scott Daspit facebook

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