Last week, U.S. Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., introduced the Vessel Response Plan Improvement Act in the wake of the Seacor Power tragedy, in which the commercial liftboat capsized in the Gulf of Mexico with 19 crewmembers on board. Kennedy’s bill would require commercial vessels to provide timely notifications to the crew’s family members throughout search and rescue operations.

“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. "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. I’m incredibly sad that Louisiana has lost such faithful crewmembers, and I hope we can prevent others from bearing the burden that their loved ones have had to endure." 

Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., sponsor of the House companion bill, said that the Seacor Power capsizing "exposed gaps in existing vessel response plan (VRP) 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."

All commercial oil service vessels are currently required to develop a detailed Coast Guard-approved VRP. Vessel owners follow VRPs during emergencies such as oil spills or capsized boats. 

Existing VRP regulations do not require that vessel owners provide the families of crewmembers with timely updates in the event of search and rescue operations. The Vessel Response Plan Improvement Act would ensure that families of crewmembers receive timely notice throughout any future emergencies.

This legislation would require vessel owners to develop 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 twice a 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.  

Text of the Vessel Response Plan Improvement Act is here.

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