The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is suspending its search and rescue efforts for eight people still missing after a Seacor Marine-owned liftboat capsized off Louisiana last week.

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“This does not mean the case is closed,” Capt. Will E. Watson, sector commander in New Orleans, said Monday during a press conference. “At any time, we might receive new information that would compel us to resume the search.”

Nineteen people were aboard Seacor Power when it tumbled over in rough weather in the Gulf of Mexico last Tuesday (April 13). Six people were rescued that day, and five have since been found dead.

Though the USCG’s search was supposed to officially end at sunset Monday, Seacor will continue to manage diving efforts to search the overturned vessel.

Watson said the USCG is shifting its focus to support and enforce the safety zone that protects those diving operations, and to support the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) in its investigation into the capsize, which has been deemed a major marine casualty.

Dive Operations Continue

Seacor CEO John Gellert said during the press conference that recovery would be led by salvage contractor Donjon Smit LLC, while dives would be carried out by divers from Phoenix International Holdings Inc.

“Phoenix’s divers will continue maximizing their efforts, and they will not stop until they’ve thoroughly searched the entire vessel,” Gellert said. “Additional divers have been mobilized to supplement the effort and take advantage of any improved weather window available to us.”

There were 17 divers on the operation as he spoke, and about half of the vessel had been explored, he said.

However, visibility within the vessel was limited and there was “a lot of debris” inside, he added.

Gellert said the Seacor Power was under contract to Talos Energy Inc. and was carrying equipment to support workover operations at one of its platforms.

“This was part of a multi-month campaign for well workovers and well decommissioning and some plug and abandonment,” he said. “This was about a month into that campaign.”

The vessel capsized during an unusual weather event in which winds gusted by 80-90 mph and waves crested as high as nine feet, according to the USGC.

When asked about the experience of the Seacor Power crew, Gellert said the captain had 50 years of experience, almost all on liftboats.

“He was one of our best captains and very prudent and conservative,” he said. “So we were very confident that he would not have gone out if he had any doubt whatsoever.”

He added that the rest of the crew was one of Seacor’s most experienced crews and were “very familiar” with the vessel.

Federal Investigation

The NTSB has opened what promises to be a lengthy investigation into the Seacor Power capsize, which has been deemed a major maritime casualty. Lead investigator Drew Ehlers said Monday it could take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to complete.

The probe would have three main focus areas: weather conditions on the day the liftboat capsized, the vessel itself and related equipment, and the people involved.

Ehlers said the agency would enlist the help of the National Weather Service, the USGC, Seacor Marine, and the American Bureau of Shipping in the investigation.

He also said the NTSB wanted to hear from eyewitnesses.

“We know folks were out in the water that day, and may have seen something,” he said. “We know folks experienced the weather out there and we’d like to hear from them. We also would like to hear from folks who have served on that vessel before,” he said, inviting witnesses to “share photos, video, experiences on that vessel so we can learn more about that vessel.”

Eyewitnesses are encouraged to communicate with the NTSB via eyewitness@ntsb.gov