Search for survivors of capsized lift boat ends

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The capsized lift boat Seacor Power is seen seven miles off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico Sunday, April 18, 2021. The vessel capsized during a storm on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

CUT OFF, La. – The search for survivors from a capsized lift boat in the Gulf of Mexico has closed and attention now turns to comforting the loved ones of the five known dead and eight missing, a grim hunt for bodies and a painstaking investigation that could take up to two years.

Seven days after the Seacor Power capsized in rough waters on April 12 while it was traveling about eight miles off the Louisiana coast, the Coast Guard on Monday suspended the search and rescue operation for the eight people still missing from the vessel. All told, the searched had covered 9,000 square miles (23,000 square kilometers) of waters off Louisiana.

Nineteen people were on board the vessel. Six were rescued on the first day. Five bodies have been pulled from the sea or from the ship by divers. For the families, it has been a brutal wait to find out what happened. Many of them gathered twice daily for updates from officials.

“We just feel so blessed that we are able to take him home, and we hope for the rest of the families that they are able to take their loved ones home, too,” said Frank Boeckl, whose nephew, Lawrence J. Warren, was the fifth body pulled from the ship.

Warren was from Terrytown, one of the many workers who come to Port Fourchon, the sprawling complex in southeastern Louisiana that is home to the vast array of boats, helicopters and other equipment that services the oil and gas industry in the Gulf of Mexico. From there, workers head out to oil rigs or other jobs, often for weekslong shifts.

The president of Seacor Marine, which owned the boat, vowed Monday that they would do everything in their power to find the remaining people. John Gellert said 17 divers were on site, and they are about halfway through the vessel as of midday Monday. Gellert also said that divers from a company Seacor contracts with were on the scene four hours after the ship capsized.

“We are steadfast in our efforts to return those who remain missing,” Gellert said. But he added that efforts will depend on the weather, not just on the surface but below the surface. “The currents are currently very strong. That will determine diving windows. When we are able to dive we will dive continuously.”

In that part of the Gulf visibility may also be an issue. Sediment carried down from the Mississippi River makes the Gulf’s waters murky much of the time. In addition, storms can stir up the muddy bottom at much greater depth than the area where the Seacor Power is located.