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Coast Guard Searching For At Least 12 People After Ship Capsized Off Louisiana Coast

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

To Louisiana now, where there is a desperate search underway for 12 missing crew members of a capsized commercial ship in the Gulf of Mexico. The vessel went down in bad weather yesterday. One person has died. Patrick Madden of member station WWNO has more from New Orleans.

PATRICK MADDEN, BYLINE: When calls for the capsized vessel, called Seacor Power, came in yesterday, Coast Guard Captain Will Watson said they immediately launched a large-scale rescue effort. Between the Guard and several good Samaritans, six people were pulled from the water alive, but many more are missing.

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WILL WATSON: My heart and the collective heart of our team goes out to the families and to Seacor, but we're giving it all we have.

MADDEN: The ship was 176 feet long and went down about eight miles south of Port Fourchon, an industrial port on the southern tip of Louisiana. It's a hub for most of the Gulf's offshore oil and gas drilling operations. The Seacor Power is a lift boat - a large vessel with giant 250-foot legs that can be dropped to the sea floor to create a platform to support offshore drilling or construction. Wilson (ph) says it's too early to say why the large commercial ship capsized, but the weather at the time was terrible.

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WATSON: Eighty to 90 miles per hour were the winds, seven to nine foot seas and extremely limited visibility. Fortunately, even with adverse weather conditions, our crews were able to get on scene and respond within about 30 minutes.

MADDEN: The storm system that swept through the Gulf yesterday was unusually strong, producing several hours of near-hurricane-force winds and drenching rain. Chuckie Cheramie Jr., president of the board commission that oversees Port Fourchon, says people who live and work in this region are used to nasty weather. But this storm seemed to catch everyone off guard.

CHUCKIE CHERAMIE JR: Yeah, we're used to living with it. We're just surprised that the weather came down this quick. At home, it was looking like about 70- to 80-mile-an-hour gusts. I'm a longtime mariner, and that's all you have to do is just watch the weather and hope for the best.

MADDEN: The weather is bad again today, but there is some hope. A Coast Guard official said it's possible there are survivors still on the ship, which remains on its side in about 50 feet of water.

For NPR News, I'm Patrick Madden in New Orleans.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.