New Legislation Seeks Timely Updates for Crew Families During Maritime Emergencies
New legislation introduced in the wake of the fatal Seacor Power tragedy would require commercial vessel owners to provide timely notifications to crew members’ families throughout search and rescue operations.
The Vessel Response Plan Improvement Act was introduced by Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) after the 234-foot lift boat capsized in the Gulf of Mexico with 19 crewmembers on board last month. Six crew members were saved, and the bodies of six deceased personnel were recovered in the days following. Seven remain unrecovered after the Coast Guard called off its search on April 19.
“The brave families of the Seacor Power crew have suffered more than we can imagine, and it’s appalling that they couldn’t even get straight answers about their loved ones,” Kennedy said.
All commercial oil industry vessels operating in U.S. waters are required to have U.S. Coast Guard-approved vessel response plans (VRP), which outline steps to be taken in the event of an oil spill, capsizing or other emergency situation. Existing regulations include no requirement that vessel owners provide the families of crewmembers with timely updates during maritime emergencies.
The new bill would require the Coast Guard to modify regulations so that VRPs would have to include a procedure for the immediate notification of next of kin in the event that search and rescue teams save or recover crewmembers following an emergency. Even in the absence of rescue or recovery developments, the bill would require vessel owners to update families at least two times each day while search and rescue efforts are ongoing. The Coast Guard held briefings for family members of Seacor Power crewmen twice daily, and the Vessel Response Plan Improvement Act would codify the practice as a requirement.
Rep. Clay Higgins (R-La.), the sponsor of the House companion bill, said, “The Seacor tragedy exposed gaps in existing vessel response plan regulations, especially regarding the frequency and timeliness of updates for the crewmembers’ families. We want to ensure that professional, compassionate, and transparent communication is a component of every vessel response plan. Our legislation assists in that effort.”
“No Louisiana family should ever have to walk through tragedy with the added weight of the unknown just because of someone else’s poor planning. This bill would make sure that families get updates quickly, directly from the vessel’s owners, instead of being forced to sift through rumors in a time of pain,” Kennedy said.