Offshore Liftboat Sinks in the Gulf of Mexico

Nineteen workers were rescued from the choppy waters off the Alabama coast as the wreckage of the liftboat floated nearby. Six workers were hospitalized for injuries ranging from broken bones to hypothermia. The liftboat was being used to repair an offshore platform in the Viosca Knoll field approximately 25 miles south of Dauphin Island off the Alabama coast. All of the liftboat crew members were rescued by the Coast Guard within 30 minutes. The six workers that had to be hospitalized were flow ashore by helicopter, all the rest of the rig's crew were picked up by boat. Once on land, they were taken to Mobile hospitals. All of the crew members were treated and released. Danos & Curole of Louisiana operates the rig.

We feel very lucky no one was seriously injured said Tommy Robichaux, vice president for administration at Danos & Curole. The company has only lost one other rig in its 53-year history, he said, and that was to a hurricane.

The rig, Luke David, had been doing maintenance work for the past two weeks on an offshore platform in the Viosca Knoll field, said Wade Boudreaux, marketing director for Danos & Curole. But at 5 a.m. Tuesday, amid 8-foot waves and high winds the rig had begun to list dangerously so crew members made an emergency call to the Coast Guard. Luke David The Coast Guard sent two rescue boats from its Dauphin Island base, along with an airplane and two helicopters from Coast Guard Air Station New Orleans and Aviation Training Center in Mobile.

The boats got there first, around 5:45 a.m., said Petty Officer Don Smith, who was riding in the second boat on the scene. But the waves were too high for boats to approach the rig, where the crew was standing on the deck waiting, Smith said. One of the rig's legs was clearly damaged, tilting the deck precariously over the water.

At about 6 a.m., the Coast Guard airplane Falcon arrived and soon dropped a life raft onto the rig's deck, but the crew refused to get in it and go overboard, said Lt. J.G. Laughlin of the Aviation Training Center. It was apparently a long drop and they were afraid to jump. The Luke David is a jackup rig with 200’ legs designed to work in water depths of 160’ feet or less. The deck usually stands 20 feet above the ocean surface, but to avoid taking on water from Tuesday morning's waves, the deck was jacked up 50 feet above the water. The Falcon circled around, and by the time it got back, the rig had collapsed and all 19 were in the water.

All three of the rig's legs had broken, and their ends were pointing up from the hull of the upturned rig as the waves pounded at its sides. The Falcon dropped two more life rafts and the crew. Soon a 41-foot Coast Guard boat picked up 10 people from the water and a civilian volunteer boat, the Gulf Rambler, picked up the remaining nine. The two Coast Guard helicopters lowered baskets to retrieve the six crew members needing medical assistance, and the rest were taken to shore by boat. No damage was done to the platform on Viosca Knoll 121, where the Luke David had been working.

The Coast Guard Marine Safety Office in Mobile is conducting an investigation into the cause of the accident and watching for leakage from the rig, said Lt. Gabe Solomon of the safety office. There was a light sheen suggesting some diesel spillage Tuesday morning. What doesn't evaporate today will be dispersed by the continued high waves expected tonight. The Luke David's fuel tank contains about 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel. The Coast Guard and an environmental cleanup company hired by Danos & Curole are monitoring the wreck to make sure there is no spillage. Meanwhile, Danos & Curole has sent boats to drag the capsized rig to shore to attempt to salvage it, Boudreaux said. Most of the crew are from southern Louisiana and one was from southern Alabama, said Al Robichaux, manager of marine operations with Danos & Curole. The crew members will be returning home to their families.