June 26, 2021 1:08:01 am
Francis Simon (50), who was the chief engineer of anchor handling tugboat MV Varaprada when it sank during Cyclone Tauktae on May 17, has told the Yellow Gate police station that he was appointed as a second engineer of Varaprada but had to act as its chief engineer till it sank, as the company that owned the vessel did not appoint any one to the post.
Of the 13 on board the tugboat, 11 died, while two, including Simon, were rescued by the Navy.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Simon had on May 25 termed the incident as a “man-made disaster”, adding that Varaprada was poorly maintained and unfit for sailing amid the cyclone.
A month later, on June 24, an FIR was registered by the Yellow Gate police station on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder based on Simon’s complaint against Glory Ship Management Company, which owned Varaprada.
Simon said, “On January 21, I joined Varaprada as second engineer officer (SEO). There was no chief engineer officer (CEO) on the vessel and therefore, I carried out the duties of CEO. Only on April 15, when the five-year renewal survey of the vessel was due that a CEO appointed. On obtaining the extension, the CEO was relieved on May 1. I had to again carry out the duties of CEO in addition to mine as SEO.”
“Despite the Master informing the owner time and again by email and satellite phone about the unseaworthiness of the vessel…, the owners totally failed to rectify those defects and continued to deploy the vessel at Mumbai High,” read an excerpt from his statement to the police.
When contacted, Glory Ship managing director Rajesh Kumar Shahi said: “The allegations are baseless. The vessel was certified by multiple government agencies, such as Indian Register of Shipping, ONGC safety audit, mercantile marine department, marine warranty surveyors and others. After their approval, it was sent to ONGC field.”
On May 14, on instructions from Afcons Infrastructure Limited, Varaprada started tugging barge Gal Constructor back to safety from near an oil rig in the south field of Bombay High, around 90 nautical miles (166.5 km) from the Mumbai shore.
On May 16, around 7.30 pm, the tug and the barge reached Bombay Floating Lights – two-and-a-half hours from the pilot station of the dock’s inner anchorage. However, as they did not get to enter inner anchorage, they were sent to an outer anchorage near Alibaug.
Due to the cyclone, both started drifting in early hours of May 17 and by evening, Varaprada sank, leading to death of 11 crew on board, including the captain. On May 18, Gal Constructor, which had drifted over 100 km, ran aground at Palghar. All 137 people on board survived.
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