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Death toll rises to four after vessel capsized in freak storm amid fears for nine men still missing

Graeme Massie and Danielle Zoellner
·2-min read
<p>A Coast Guard response boat heads toward a capsized 175-foot commercial lift boat  searching for people in the water 8 miles south of Grand Isle, Louisiana</p> (US Coast Guard Coast Guard Cutter Glenn Harris via AP)

A Coast Guard response boat heads toward a capsized 175-foot commercial lift boat searching for people in the water 8 miles south of Grand Isle, Louisiana

(US Coast Guard Coast Guard Cutter Glenn Harris via AP)

Two more men were confirmed dead on Saturday following the capsize of the Seacor Power oil exploration vessel earlier this week off the coast of Louisiana, bringing the death toll to four.

Officials confirmed that they had recovered the bodies of Anthony Hartford, 53, from New Orleans, and James Wallingsford, 55, from Gilbert, Louisiana.

The bodies of the two men were found inside the capsized boat by divers, according to the Coast Guard.

A man identified as Ernest Williams, 69, of Arnaudville, Louisiana, was recovered from the water on Thursday, according to the coroner’s office. David Ledet, 63, from Thibodaux, Louisiana, was found by the coast guard on Wednesday.

Causes of death for the four crew members have not yet been disclosed.

“Our deepest sympathy goes out to the family, friends and loved ones of everyone involved in this tragic incident,” said Captain Will Watson, commander of Coast Guard Sector New Orleans. “We are using every asset available to us to continue our search efforts.”

The Seacor Power vessel capsized on Tuesday in the Gulf of Mexico during a severe storm with 19 people onboard.

Six of the crew from the 129ft lift boat were rescued from the water immediately after the incident. Some nine crew members have yet to be found.

Divers have secured multiple access points on the upturned vessel and hope to be able to rescue trapped crew members, the Coast Guard said.

Officials say they still consider the operation a rescue, and not a recovery mission.

“We are hopeful that we do find crew members alive, and that’s why we are making every effort we can to get to them and bring them home,” said Coast Guard Lt John Edwards.

The Coast Guard are hopeful that crew members have survived in air pockets in the overturned, but not fully submerged, ship.

Divers knocked on the hull on Thursday but did not hear any response from inside.

“While search efforts for the crew are continuing, the incident has been declared a major marine casualty,” the Coast Guard added in a statement.

The rescue operation have continued over several days but was postponed at one point on Friday due to rough weather.

“I’m scared and I’m devastated and I’m broken,” Darra Morales, whose son was onboard the ship, told NOLA.com. “I just want my son to come home to his children.”

Ms Morales’ son is Chaz Morales, 37, a father-of-three, and a crane operator on the vessel.

The Coast Guard says it has searched for a combined 72 hours, covering about 6,380 square miles, in “an area roughly the size of Hawaii”.

The Seacor Power is a liftboat operated by Seacor Marine. An investigation is ongoing about where the ship was going and what its mission was following the incident.

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