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Cyclone Tauktae: 49 bodies found after barge sinks; search operations continue

Cyclone Tauktae update: Indian Navy ships worked through the night, using searchlights to trace any movement in the pitch dark waters to look for survivors. The search operations would continue for another three days at least, Indian Navy Commodore Ajay Jha said.

By: Express Web Desk | Mumbai, New Delhi |
Updated: May 20, 2021 10:05:54 pm
Those stranded on Barge P305 being hauled up on to INS Kochi, in Mumbai Wednesday. (Express photo)

At least 49 personnel onboard barge P305 that went adrift in Cyclone Tauktae fury before sinking in the Arabian Sea are dead, Navy officials said. So far, 186 of the 261 people who were on board the barge and two others on tugboat Varaprada have been rescued. Search operations are underway for over 35 people (26 on barge P305 & 11 on tugboat) still missing.

The Navy on Thursday morning launched a fresh aerial search and rescue mission, deploying helicopters to scour the waters off Mumbai coast four days ago. Indian Navy ships worked through the night, using searchlights to trace any movement in the pitch dark waters to look for survivors. The search operations would continue for another three days at least, Indian Navy Commodore Ajay Jha said.

Navy ships INS Kochi, INS Kolkata, INS Beas, INS Betwa, INS Teg, P8I maritime surveillance aircraft, Chetak, ALH and Seaking helicopters are involved in the SAR operations. Another Navy ship INS Talwar was the ‘On Scene Coordinator’ off Gujarat coast and assisted Support Station 3 (SS-3) and Drill Ship Sagar Bhushan, which were being safely towed back to Mumbai by ONGC support vessels, an official said.

Navy ships INS Kochi is involved in the search operation

The Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas announced a high-level inquiry into “lapses and gaps” in the system. It will probe the sequence of events leading to the ONGC support vessels left stranded by the cyclone, see whether warnings by the India Meteorological Department and other statutory authorities were acted upon or not, and if the SOP for securing vessels and disaster management was followed.

Indian Navy conducts rescue operation with INS Kochi (PTI Photo)

The Indian Express reported on Wednesday that the Coast Guard had sent two weather advisories to ONGC and Flag Officer Offshore Defence Advisory Group, that all vessels in the Mumbai High areas should return to the shore. Coast Guard officials said they had informed the Union Home Ministry and Defence Ministry that they sent one warning on May 11, and the second on May 13.

According to barge’s Chief Engineer Rahman Shaikh, everyone onboard could have been saved had many of the life rafts not had punctures and the Captain taken the cyclone warnings seriously.

The rescue operations continued overnight (PTI)

Admitted to Apollo Hospital in Tardeo on Wednesday evening with a wound on his knee, Shaikh, 48, said, “We received the cyclone warning a week before it hit. Many other vessels in the vicinity left. I told the Captain, Balwinder Singh, that we must also leave for the harbour. But he told me that winds were not expected to be over 40 kmph and the cyclone would cross Mumbai in one or two hours. But in reality the wind speed was more than 100 kmph. Five of our anchors broke. They couldn’t withstand the cyclone.”

Mumbai: Indian Navy carries out the rescue and search operations for the missing crew members of the barge P305, off the Mumbai coast. (PTI)

The barge, which served as accommodation for the men working on ONGC platforms and rigs, was engineless, like most vessels in that category. Barges usually need to be towed by a tug boat. Shaikh said that he sent an SOS to Nove, the designated tugboat for P305, but its master did not show up.

Meanwhile, the death toll in incidents related to cyclone Tauktae Thursday reached 79 in different parts of Gujarat. Amreli in the Saurashtra region was the worst affected district with 45 deaths so far, news agency PTI reported citing an official.

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