INDIA: Mumbai: The bodies of 26 crew members of Accommodation Barge P-305, which sank, about 35 miles off Mumbai on May 17, were retrieved by the Indian Navy’s Search and Rescue (SAR) operations team, even as 49 crew members remained missing as of Wednesday evening.
As the cyclone “Tauktae” intensified in the Arabian sea, the ill-fated barge P-305 sank, due to ingress of water, on Monday evening in an extremely severe cyclonic storm with winds of 80-90 knots, wave heights of 6-8 meters, torrential rains and almost zero visibility. Being an accommodation barge, it had no engine to power it. It hit one of the oil rigs in the vicinity and resultantly the water gushed into it.
The barge P-305, Drill Ship “Sagar Bhushan”, “Support Station 3” and “GAL Constructor” were engaged in oil exploration work by the ONGC. However, they were drifted off the “Heera Oil Fields” of ONGC in the Bombay High area. While P 305 sank, others were steadied by the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard in the joint operation.
On Wednesday the bodies of the dead crew members were retrieved by Navy’s ships-INS Kochi, Kolkata, Beas, Betwa, and Teg and aircraft- P8I maritime surveillance aircraft, Chetak, and Seeking helicopters, involved in the SAR operations.188 stranded crew members were rescued. The survivors included 186 crew members of “ barge P-305”, and two crew members from Tug ‘Varapradha’, a Defence Spokesman Commander Mehul Karnik told the “Transcontinental Times”.
The survivors were visibly jaded and worn out after the trauma of being adrift in turbulent waters. Some of them were tossed in the choppy waters for 16 to 18 hours.They thanked the Indian Navy and the Indian Coast Guard.
INS Kochi which entered the Mumbai harbour on Wednesday, to disembark 125 survivors and mortal remains of four crew members, was immediately sailed out in the evening again to continue the search effort. INS Kolkata was scheduled to enter Mumbai harbour on late Wednesday night to disembark the survivors rescued from barge P-305 and Tug ‘Varapradha’ as well as the mortal remains of 18 crew members recovered during the operation. On completion of its operations off Gujarat coast, INS Talwar has also been diverted to conjoin the other three naval ships searching for the missing crew of barge P-305, off Mumbai.
INS Talwar was the ‘On Scene Coordinator’ off Gujarat coast and assisted “Support Station 3” and Drill Ship “Sagar Bhushan”, which are now being safely towed back to Mumbai by ONGC support vessels. Food and water to the 300 odd crew members of these vessels were also provided by the naval helicopters from Mumbai, earlier in the day, Commander Mehul Karnik added.
In the meanwhile, the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has set up a high-level committee to enquire into the sequence of events leading to the stranding of ONGC vessels in the cyclone. The committee will comprise the Director-General of Shipping Amitabh Kumar, Director General of Hydrocarbons S.C.L. Das, and Joint Secretary, Ministry of Defence Nazli Jafri Shayin.
The committee will also look into whether the warnings issued by Meteorological Department and other statutory authorities were adequately considered and acted upon. Also, whether the Standard Operating Procedures for securing the vessels and dealing with disaster management were adequately followed. Lapses and gaps in the systems leading to the stranding and drifting of the vessels will be probed and a report will be submitted within a month.