May 23, 2021 2:08:29 am
Six days after two vessels sank when Cyclone Tauktae unleashed ferocious winds and rain close to the Mumbai coast, resulting in the deaths of at least 66 people with 20 still unaccounted for, nine bodies washed ashore on Saturday – four each in Maharashtra and Gujarat coasts and one in Daman.
Meanwhile, INS Makar, a Navy survey catamaran equipped with side scan sonars, has located the wreckage of P305 in the vicinity of where it sank on Monday evening, said officials.
It is unclear if the bodies that washed ashore are from either of the two vessels. In all, 188 people have been rescued alive so far. Of them, 186 were from barge P305, while two are crew members from Varaprada, a tug boat that sank 20 km off the Mumbai coast.
The search and rescue mission has so far recovered 66 bodies, all confirmed to be men who were on board P305. Of the 20 men who continue to remain missing, nine were on P305 and 11 on Varaprada.
The discovery of the nine bodies found on Saturday raised hopes that some or all them could be from among the missing crew members of Varaprada. While two bodies each were washed ashore at Raigad’s Alibaug and Murud, four were found in Gujarat’s Valsad and one in Daman.
The process of identifying the bodies will start only on Sunday. “The bodies have been kept at the mortuaries in the local hospitals. We have informed the relatives and they have gone to identify the bodies. If identified, the bodies will be handed over to them by the local police,” said an officer from Yellow Gate police station in Mumbai.
“The relatives would try to identify the deceased with the help of the belongings found on their bodies, like clothes, identity cards, batch number or birth marks, previous injury marks or tattoos. In case the bodies are not identified, we will bring them to Mumbai and conduct DNA tests,” the officer added.
Officials said INS Makar has located the wreckage of P305 in the vicinity of where it sank on Monday evening. Divers have been sent to locate any bodies that may be stuck inside it.
Varaprada’s remains are yet to found. “Makar will be now sent to look for Varaprada. Two survivors have given us an approximate location of where the tug boat sank. It would not have moved much from there. The divers will check to find if any bodies are stuck in it. The entire exercise has been undertaken to find the missing bodies,” said a Navy officer.
Varaprada had towed barge Gal Constructor almost to JNPT, to what it believed was a safe area, on May 16 night. But early Monday, as the cyclone roared into the Mumbai coast, the anchors of both vessels broke away. Gal Constructor ran aground near Palghar. All 137 men on board were rescued.
But Varaprada was not so fortunate. The two rescued crew members of Varaprada were found floating in the sea by INS Kolkata by chance, as it was proceeding to rescue those on board P305. Francis K Simon (50), the chief engineer of Varaprada who is from Kochi in Kerala, and sailor Saheb Bhunia (23) from West Bengal, were the only two lucky survivors from Varaprada. Both knew how to swim.
Navy spokesperson Commander Mehul Karnik said, “The search operations will continue till we find as many as possible and will be reviewed accordingly. Right now, the search area – from the spot where P305 sunk – has expanded to about 10,000 square miles. All efforts will be made to recover as many survivors as possible. For the unfortunate ones, we will recover their mortal remains at least as it will help their families get closure and perform last rites.”
Of the recovered bodies that are being identified by families at the JJ hospital mortuary in Mumbai, 46 have been handed over to their families. “We have paid travel expenses of the relatives of 21 deceased so far, 17 are being sent by flight. Among them, some left today and some will return on Sunday,” said an official from Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC). Barge P305 was a vessel doing work for the ONGC off the coast of Mumbai when it sank.
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