Three crew members onboard a barge off the Mumbai coast died after inhaling toxic fumes on Friday night. Two other crew members who were knocked unconscious were rescued by the Coast Guard and admitted to Bombay Hospital. The incident took place onboard the barge Orion II, owned by Mumbai-based Shree Krishna Agencies, which was secured alongside the Singaporean bulk carrier MV Thor Endeavour, 5.4 nautical miles off Malabar Hill. The barge’s crew was unloading a cargo of wheat from the Endeavour, the Coast Guard said.
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At 10.40 pm, the Endeavour’s crew reported a gas leak onboard the barge to the Coast Guard’s Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) and that five crew members were incapacitated. When the Coast Guard arrived at the barge, they found that an hour earlier, the level of the barge’s sludge tank, meant to collect wet waste, had risen dangerously. Sludge tanks hold and dispose of wet waste in vessels. While advanced naval vessels are able to empty the tank with the press of a button, low-cost barges require their crew to do the job manually, frequently exposing themselves to noxious fumes that build up if the tank is not regularly opened and aired.
On Friday night, a crew member who entered the tank to manually dump the waste using a portable de-flooding pump was knocked unconscious by the poisonous fumes inside. Protocol required him to use a blower to first drive away the poisonous gases after opening the hatch. The Coast Guard said this protocol was not followed and that the crew member was not wearing any safety equipment when he opened the hatch leading to the tank, which is the responsibility of the vessel’s owner. When the crew member did not return, four other crew members descended three decks down to the sludge tank and entered one after the other. The Coast Guard described each of them being knocked out as a “chain reaction”.
The Coast Guard rescue team discovered that of the five men who entered the tank, three were dead and the rest unconscious. The men were pulled out by a Coast Guard officer wearing a helmet and with a rope tied around his waist. Two unconscious crew members — the barge’s master, Mohammad Daud Ibrahim Kurey (50), and crew member Ganesh Bitta (40) — were pulled out first and brought to Ferry Wharf at 3.45 am and rushed to Bombay Hospital.
Kurey is in a critical condition and admitted to the ICU. By 8 am, the Coast Guard brought the three dead men on shore and sent them to JJ Hospital for a post-mortem. A case of accidental death has been registered at Malabar Hill police station.
“We will wait for a report into the mishap to be completed before initiating action. We will need to understand how the levels in the sludge tank rose, why the crew did not have safety equipment and who is responsible for the incident,” said Dyaneshwar Chavan, Deputy Commissioner of Police, Zone II.
According to JJ Hospital dean Dr T P Lahane, the three had asphyxia in the lower gas chamber of the barge. “There were no signs of external injuries,” said Lahane.
The post-mortem was conducted late at the hospital. The three dead have been identified as Mangesh Bhosale, Jayanta Choudhary and Kritikson.