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Sunday, June 13, 2021

Cyclone Tauktae: ‘Barge almost hit oil rig, was staring at death’

The four-deck Gal Constructor, an accommodation barge catering to OGC, anchored offshore near Alibaug on Sunday night started drifting several nautical miles till Satpati in Palghar and got stranded there in wee hours of Tuesday.

Written by Jayprakash S Naidu | Mumbai |
May 19, 2021 3:18:39 am
Sailors after being rescued by the Navy. (Photo: Ganesh Shirsekar)

Many of the 137 people who were on board the ill-fated Gal Constructor barge ship and were rescued said they had given up hope of escaping alive and “stared at death” as their barge nearly hit an oil rig. Some even called their families to say their final goodbyes.

The four-deck Gal Constructor, an accommodation barge catering to OGC, anchored offshore near Alibaug on Sunday night started drifting several nautical miles till Satpati in Palghar and got stranded there in wee hours of Tuesday.

Anand Menon, 45, deck foreman of Gal constructor, who has been on barges since 1994, said, “I have seen several cyclones while on ships but all of them passed in two to four hours. This was the first time that a cyclone was so powerful and lasted for several hours. We had lowered four anchors, each weighing over seven tonnes, but the cyclone was so strong that all of them got ripped within minutes and we started drifting away. We had eight anchors on the barge but there was not enough space to lower all anchors as there are pipes below the sea that could have got damaged.”

Others like Leenas Alphons, a 50-year-old crane operator working on the barge, said the experience was akin to staring death in the eyes.

“While drifting on Sunday night, our barge almost hit an oil rig. We were staring at death as the oil rig neared us. It was god’s grace that we did not hit it, and the barge drifted away when it was 25 metres away from the rig. The barge could have capsized after hitting the rig and we could have died. I have spent two decades of my life on ships and faced four cyclones, but I never experienced such a life-threatening experience. I called my children and told them to take care of my wife if I do not return home,” said Alphons.

Many of them made frantic phone calls to say their last goodbyes to family members.

“I got married five months ago. I had tears in my eyes as I told my wife and mother that I would not survive the cyclone. I apologised and cut the call as I could not share the horrific details that the engines have failed and a lot of water had entered the ship,” said Yogesh Nalavade 27, motorman,

Even though Samir Gaikwad, 31, a motor man, was rescued, he was under a lot of stress as his younger brother Vishal Gaikwad, 30, a seaman, was stuck on another barge (SS3 barge). Gaikwad was seen asking a defence official, “I want to know about my brother. Is he safe?”

He added, “I had lost all hope of coming out alive but now I am worried about my brother. I have been working on the ship since 2013 but never faced such a horrifying experience. I will not go back on a ship if I get a better job.”

“There were only fruits, juice, biscuits and some milk. We survived on this for 48 hours. Many went hungry. As the light had gone, we could not cook food. A lot of food supplies were stored on the bottom deck which got submerged in water. In 12 years, this was the first time I faced such an experience,” said Suresh Salian, 43, a caterer and sole breadwinner for his family consisting of mother, wife and two children.

Pravin Kodag, 27, supervisor of the barge, said, “I told all of them to wear life jackets. The bottom deck had filled with water and 52 people were asked to come up on the second deck. The electricity was out and only one small generator was used to light four tube lights in the mess. We all gathered there calmly.”

The barge got stranded near Palghar around 3 am on Tuesday and hours later the Indian Navy and Coast Guard reached there and rescued them.

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