The chief engineer of the barge, which sank in the Arabian sea as Cyclone Tauktae hit India’s west coast, said everyone on the boat could have been saved, had the captain taken weather warnings seriously, The Indian Express reported on Thursday. The accommodation barge, P305, went adrift off Heera Oil Fields in Bombay High area on May 17.
The Indian Navy’s 6.04 pm update on Thursday said that out of 273 personnel on the barge, 186 passengers had been rescued and 49 bodies were recovered. Therefore, 38 personnel who were onboard are still missing.
The Navy’s massive search and rescue effort, involving helicopters, ships and surveillance aircraft, entered the fourth day on Thursday.
Barge P-305 served as the accommodation for those working on the platforms and rigs of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation.
“We received the cyclone warning a week before it hit,” Rahman Shaikh, the chief engineer, told The Indian Express. “Many other vessels in the vicinity left. I told the Captain, Balwinder Singh, that we must also leave for the harbour.”
Shaikh added: “But he [the captain] told me that winds were not expected to be over 40 kmph [kilometres per hour] and the cyclone would cross Mumbai in one or two hours. But in reality the wind speed was more than 100 kmph. Five of our anchors broke. They couldn’t withstand the cyclone.”
Shaikh also said that several of life rafts that they were going to use were punctured. “There was miscalculation on the Captain’s behalf and also the company [ONGC],” he told The Indian Express.
Three barges and an equal number of ships had gone adrift under the impact of the cyclone on Monday, The Tribune reported. All the others apart from P-305 are safe.
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas set up a high-level committee to inquire into sequence of events leading to stranding of the ONGC vessels in cyclone, ANI reported.
As many as 45 people have died so far due to the cyclone across 12 districts of Gujarat and 12 more deaths occurred in Maharashtra. Several deaths have taken place in Karnataka too.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a relief fund of Rs 1,000 crore for Gujarat after undertaking an aerial survey of the cyclone-hit areas.
Maharashtra minister calls for accountability
The Nationalist Congress Party on Wednesday called for action against those responsible for not evacuating the personnel from the barge that sank in the Arabian Sea on Monday. Maharashtra minister Nawab Malik questioned why were the personnel not evacuated despite all warnings about the approaching cyclone.
“Everyone was made aware of Cyclone Tauktae and warnings were sent out for all to take necessary precautions,” the minister wrote in a series of tweets. “Local government agencies had made arrangements for people on coastal areas to move to safer places and fishermen were asked not to venture into the seas. Then why did the ONGC not pay heed to all the warnings and follow safety protocols?”
The minister said that due to ONGC’s failure to take a decision on the evacuations, “600 lives of innocent workers were put in danger”. Malik also said that the Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas should also be held answerable for the deaths.
“The Indian Navy and Coast Guard are trying their best in this rescue operation,” he said. “Action must be taken against those who are in charge and did not take the decision of evacuation at the right time. They must be held responsible and punished.”