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Oil workers adrift 4 days in Gulf watched friends die

Ted Derise Jr
Ted Derise Jr. pauses as he talks Friday in Houston about the four days he and nine others spent in the waters of the Gulf of Mexic.Pat Sullivan / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

When waves as high as 40 feet disabled the 94-foot research vessel that Jeremy Parfait and nine other oil workers were on in the Gulf of Mexico last month, he knew there was only one place they could go — into the water.

But their boat, which normally would be elevated above the water by several metal legs, had toppled in the tropical storm and was floating helplessly, beaten by waves and wind. The 10 men jumped into the Gulf and clung to a 6-foot (1.83-meter)-by-3-foot (0.91-meter) raft.

"We know we don't want to go in that water. I can see it in their eyes. They are scared to death. They don't want to go in that water. I don't want to go in that water," said Parfait, the boat's captain.

On Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, in Houston, ship's captain Jeremy Parfait talks about the four days he spent in the waters of the Gulf of Mexico waiting to be rescued after abandoning ship during a tropical storm Sept. 8, 2011. Ten men went into the water, only six survived the ordeal. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)Pat Sullivan / AP

Parfait, 39, and Ted Derise Jr., 32, told The Associated Press on Friday that the ordeal was a nightmare in which they saw friends and co-workers slowly die. The workers abandoned their vessel Sept. 8 about 8 miles (12 kilometers) off shore from Frontera in the southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco. It was nearly four days before they were rescued. Three died in the water, and a fourth died later at a hospital.

As the men floated, Mexico's state oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, and the Mexican navy mounted a nearly 10,000-square-mile search by air and sea. Most were found just before noon Sept. 11 about 50 miles off the coast of the Mexican state of Campeche.

Derise and Parfait, who are from Louisiana, said they were pushed to the breaking point but never lost hope they would be rescued.

"When we hit the water, I kept telling them, 'They are going to come find us,'" Parfait said.

Along with Derise and Parfait, four Mexican oil workers and a Bangladeshi were rescued alive. Craig Myers, 32, and another American, Nicholas Reed, 31, were found dead. The Bangladeshi man, Nadimuzzman Khan, later died of exposure in a Mexican hospital. The body of another worker, Aaron Houweling of Australia, who had floated away earlier, was found three days later.

Parfait said that when he realized they would have to abandon their vessel, a liftboat called the Trinity II, he wasn't worried because a standby ship about three miles away could come and get the workers. But he said that ship and another one that was also nearby failed to come to their aid.

Parfait, Derise and the family of one of the workers who died, Craig Myers, have filed a federal lawsuit in Houston against the companies involved in the operation, claiming they were abandoned. The companies being sued, including Geokinetics Inc., a Houston-based company that provides seismic data to the oil and gas industry; Trinity Liftboat Services, a Louisiana-based company that operated the liftboat and that Parfait and Derise work for, did not return telephone calls seeking comment Friday night.

In addition to Derise, Parfait, Myers and Khan, the other workers were: Nicholas Reed, 31, of Louisiana; Aaron Houweling, of Australia; and Ruben Martinez Velasquez; Eleaquin Lopez; Luis Escobar; and Ruben Lopez Villalobos, four Mexican contract workers.

The men jumped in the water on Sept. 8, after their vessel became disabled.

Derise and Parfait say they are still dealing with psychological and medical issues from their ordeal.

"My wife wakes me up and I'm screaming. No matter what the dream is, I'm trying to get to them. The outcome is still the same. I can't change nothing," Parfait said.