India World

Cyclone Tauktae: At least 49 dead, 35 missing four days after oil barge sank off Mumbai coast

At least 49 personnel on-board barge P305 that capsized in Cyclone Tauktae, some 70km off Mumbai in the Arabian Sea are dead.

At least 49 personnel onboard barge P305 that capsized in Cyclone Tauktae, some 70km off Mumbai in the Arabian Sea are dead, Indian Navy officials said.

So far, 186 of the 261 people who were on board the barge and two others on tugboat Varaprada have been rescued. Search operations are underway for over 35 people who are still missing.

On Thursday the Indian Navy launched a fresh aerial search and rescue mission, deploying helicopters to scour the waters off Mumbai coast.

Indian Navy ships worked through the night, using searchlights to trace any movement in the pitch dark waters to look for survivors. The search operations would continue for another three days at least, Indian Navy Commodore Ajay Jha announced.

Five navy vessels – INS Kochi, INS Kolkata, INS Beas, INS Betwa, INS Teg – along with P8I maritime surveillance aircraft, Chetak, ALH and Seaking helicopters are involved in the search and rescue operations.

Meanwhile, another Navy ship INS Talwar was the ‘On Scene Coordinator’ off Gujarat coast and assisted Support Station 3 (SS-3) and Drill Ship Sagar Bhushan, which were being safely towed back to Mumbai by ONGC support vessels, an official said.

India’s Petroleum and Natural Gas ministry announced a high-level inquiry into ‘lapses and gaps’. It will probe the sequence of events leading to the ONGC support vessels left stranded by the cyclone, see whether warnings by the India Meteorological Department and other statutory authorities were acted upon or not.

Media reports claimed that the Coast Guard had sent two weather advisories to ONGC and Flag Officer Offshore Defence Advisory Group, that all vessels in the Mumbai High areas should return to the shore. The warnings were sent as early as a week before the storm struck.

According to barge’s Chief Engineer Rahman Shaikh, everyone on board could have been saved had many of the life rafts not had punctures and the Captain took the cyclone warnings seriously.

The barge served as accommodation for the men working on ONGC platforms and rigs, and was engineless, like most vessels in that category. Barges usually need to be towed by a tug boat. Shaikh said that he sent an SOS to Nove, the designated tugboat for P305, but its master did not show up.