The Coast Guard said it was suspending its search for eight crew members of a commercial lift boat who have been missing since the vessel capsized in treacherous weather in the Gulf of Mexico near Louisiana on April 13.
The bodies of five crew members have been recovered, Capt. Will Watson, the Coast Guard’s sector commander for New Orleans, said at a news conference where he announced that the search-and-rescue effort would end at sundown on Monday.
“Five, unfortunately, have been recovered deceased and eight persons remain missing,” he said.
“We just came here from talking to the families,” he said. “Told them what I’m telling you all now. There was a lot of hugging and a lot of crying. There was a lot of sadness and grief. But there was also a lot of hope and a lot of faith, still. I just want to say to all those folks, our deepest sympathies extend to you all.”
The “focus now will shift” to a National Transportation Safety Board investigation, Captain Watson said.
The Coast Guard, he said, would “work very hard in the days ahead, in the weeks ahead, in the months ahead with the N.T.S.B. to figure out what happened here so that hopefully we can learn some lessons that help us to prevent this from ever happening again.”
Six people were rescued hours after the craft capsized, and one person was found dead on the surface of the water the next day, the Coast Guard said. Another body was pulled from the water on April 15, and two more were recovered by divers the next day. Captain Watson announced the recovery of a fifth body at the news conference on Monday.
The Coast Guard had searched for the missing people for more than 175 hours and had sent a dive team to the hull of the boat in the hopes of finding survivors trapped inside. But divers who knocked on the hull did not hear any response, the Coast Guard said on Thursday night.
The Coast Guard has searched more than 9,268 square nautical miles — an effort that Captain Watson said included four Coast Guard cutters, three 45-foot response boats, six fixed-wing aircraft and three helicopters.
The vessel had been on its starboard side after it turned over. When the Coast Guard arrived, rescuers faced seven- to nine-foot waves and winds of 80 to 90 miles per hour. Images and video footage released by the Coast Guard showed waves pounding the side of the partly submerged vessel.
The Coast Guard declared the scene a “major marine casualty,” and said it was leading the investigation with help from the N.T.S.B.
The 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. on the day that the boat capsized.
Seacor has not said what the boat’s mission was that day. In a statement, the company thanked the Coast Guard and the “good Samaritan vessels” that had responded.
“We are deeply saddened by the news of the vessel capsizing and are working closely with the U.S. Coast Guard and local authorities to support all efforts to locate our valued team members and partners,” the company said in a statement. “Our hearts and prayers go out to everyone involved.”
Darra Morales told NOLA.com that her son, Chaz Morales, 37, a crane operator on the boat and the father of three children, had been scheduled to take time off, but decided to work an extra shift on the boat to make money.
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.
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.
Severe weather had pounded Louisiana, 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.
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