May 20, 2021 12:46:47 pm
After Cyclone Tauktae hit the Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai, four vessels of the Oil Natural Gas Corporation Ltd went adrift, stranding an estimated total of 800 personnel on board. These included the accommodation barge P305, cargo barge GAL Constructor, accommodation barge SS-3 and the Sagar Bhushan oil rig.
As of Thursday morning, at least 37 bodies were recovered and search was on for nearly 50 more people who remain missing.
Here’s a look at the timeline of how it unfolded.
Warnings sent on May 11, 13
On May 11, the Coast Guard sent warnings to both Oil and Natural Gas Commission (ONGC) and the Flag Officer, Offshore Defence Advisory Group (FODAG), that all vessels should come back to the harbour as the cyclone advanced closer to the Mumbai coast.
The Coast Guard officials have stated that the Union Home Ministry and Defence Ministry were also informed of the notices and a second warning was sent on May 13.
However, despite the warnings, the personnel remained on board the barge. According to a survivor, the captain “was sure that the cyclone will pass and not harm them.”
As wind speed reached nearly 150-180 Km/hour with six to eight meters high waves, on May 17, the vessels went adrift. The survivor adds that the captain jumped into the sea, prompting other crew members to follow him.
While the anchors of Barge P305 and SS3 gave away, the cargo barge GAL Constructor started drifting with water ingress in the engine room. The ONGC’s drill ship Sagar Bhushan too lost its anchors and started drifting north.
Rescue operations underway
This initiated one of the biggest search and rescue operations by the Navy and the Coast Guard, with the help of defence ships and offshore vessels of the ONGC.
Two ships of the Indian Navy, INS Kochi and INS Kolkata, three coast guard vessels and 14 other vessels owned by ONGC and chartered vessels are carrying out the rescue mission.
#Watch: Indian Naval ships and aircraft are presently undertaking search and rescue operations of the missing crew members of accommodation barge P-305, which sank on May 17. #CycloneTauktae pic.twitter.com/D1BVgSri82
Varaprada, a tug boat that was towing barge Gal Constructor to the coast also went out of contact on Monday afternoon, adding 11 to the list of missing personnel.
On Wednesday, two survivors said that the tug boat had sank.
Out of the 261 personnel on board P305, 180 men were said to have been rescued by Tuesday.
At least 37 had been declared dead in the tragedy by Thursday evening, while rescue operations remained underway for the rest.
Indian Navy Commodore Ajay Jha, who is supervising the rescue operations, has stated that the bodies would be handed over to the Mumbai port police. He also said that the search would continue for another three days at least.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas announced a high-level inquiry into “lapses and gaps” in the system.
“Several vessels of ONGC with more than 600 people on board were stranded in offshore areas during Cyclone Tauktae. The stranding, drifting and subsequent events have led to loss of several lives,” the Ministry’s statement read.
The inquiry would look into the sequence of events that led to the stranding and drifting of these vessels, and whether the warnings issued and SOPs issued for securing the vessels were adequately considered and acted upon.
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