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Coast Guard searches for 12 missing from capsized ship

The Coast Guard searched for 12 people missing off the coast of Louisiana on Wednesday after finding one dead crew member and pulling six survivors from rough seas when their commercial platform vessel capsized in hurricane-force winds.

Coast Guard Capt. Will Watson said winds were 80 to 90 mph when the vessel overturned and seas were 7 to 9 feet. “It’s challenging under any circumstance,” he said.

Asked about the prospects of the missing crewmembers, Watson said: “We are hopeful. We can’t do this work if you’re not optimistic, if you’re not hopeful.”

Lafourche Parish President Archie Chaisson III confirmed the missing crew members were on board the Seacor Power before it flipped over miles south of Port Fourchon.

“The hope is that we can bring the other 12 home alive,” Chaisson said Wednesday. Time is of the essence in the rescue efforts, as “we have the potential for some rough weather around lunchtime,” he added.

The search involved at least four Coast Guard vessels, four private ones and Coast Guard airplanes based in Corpus Christi, Texas, and Mobile, Alabama. A Coast Guard helicopter also was being used.

Relatives of the missing crew members rushed to the port from their homes nearby, seeking any information they could get, Chaisson said.

“We continue to pray for the 18 men who were on that vessel as well as their families,” Chaisson said.

The company that owns the ship, Houston-based Seacor Marine, set up a private hotline to share information with families of those onboard, Chaisson said. An employee who answered the phone Wednesday morning said he had no immediate information he could share.

The National Weather Service in New Orleans had advised of bad weather offshore, including a special marine warning issued before 4 p.m. Tuesday that predicted steep waves and winds greater than 50 knots (58 mph).

The Seacor Power crew sent an emergency distress signal a half-hour later, at 4:30 p.m., according to the Coast Guard, which then issued an urgent marine broadcast that prompted multiple private vessels in the area to respond, saving four of the crewmembers, the agency said. Coast Guard crews in boats rescued another two people.

“There was a microburst of weather that came through the area at the time,” Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Jonathan Lally said.

Capt. Ronald Dufrene said his offshore trawler Mister Jug was among the shrimp boats that struggled to survive the storm. He said the captain who was on board told him seas rose 15 to 20 feet (5 to 6 meters).

“They lost the wind gage at 80 miles (129 kilometers) an hour, Dufrene said. “They say it blew like that for more than an hour.”

“People who have been fishing 30, 40 years — the first time they put their life jackets on was yesterday. ... I know three boats for sure said that,” Dufrene said.

The Seacor Power, a bulky vessel 129-feet (39-meters) long at its beam, is designed to become an offshore platform by dropping three towering legs down to the sea floor. At one point, video showed the massive ship flipped with one of its legs pointed awkwardly skyward as rescuers searched the heaving water.

Port Fourchon, Louisiana's southernmost seaport, is a major base for the U.S. oil and gas industry, supporting most of Louisiana's offshore platforms and drilling rigs.

The storm also overturned other vessels and damaged property from Louisiana's shore up to New Orleans. The Coast Guard warned in a Facebook post that the storms caused “significant hazards to life and property.”

“Please join @FirstLadyOfLA and me in praying for those who remain missing after yesterday’s capsizing off the coast of Grand Isle and for those who are working to rescue them,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday on Twitter.

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The length of the capsized vessel has been corrected; it has a beam of 129 feet, not 265 feet.