A barge with 261 people went adrift late on 17 May and sank near the Bombay High Fields, unable to withstand the fury of Cyclone ‘Tauktae’. So far, there are 188 survivors, including 186 crew members of Accommodation Barge P-305 and two from tug ‘Varapradha’ that have been rescued by Indian Navy ships and aircraft. Twenty-two staff members are yet to be traced.
Families Narrate Pain, Difficulties
Thirty-seven-year-old Vishal Katghare who died in the incident was working as a quality control engineer on Barge P-305 for the last two years. Speaking to The Quint’s Hindi team, Mandaar Katghare, brother of Vishal Katghare said:
“Vishal got married only two months ago. Post marriage, he was on duty for the last one and a half months. He was going to take leave and return home on 24 May. But we had never imagined that such an untoward incident would take place.”
He further stated that he did not get any information from the Afcons company. After he became aware of the sinking of the barge, he used his contacts to access the police’s list and found out that Vishal had passed away.
The colleague who jumped into the sea along with Vishal, in JJ Hospital, told the family that Vishal swam in the sea for 12 hours but he succumbed after reaching the hospital.
Grieving Families Complain About No Info From Employer
Yatindra Singh, 35, who went on a rescue mission, too, has a similar story. He has been missing since late Monday, 17 May, evening and his family members living in Uttar Pradesh are worried about him. After completing the merchant navy course, Yatindra has been working as chief officer on the tug ‘Varapradha’ for the last one and a half years.
His nephew Prakhar Singh told Quint Hindi:
“His company Glory Ship Management is not giving any information to us. All we have got is assurance that we will be provided insurance and compensation if needed. Yatindra is survived by his wife and two young daughters – a five-year-old and a six-month-old.”
In another instance, family members of 27-year-old Antony Edwin, a mechanical engineer and employee of Afcons who worked on-board barge P-305 told news agency PTI that Edwin was to look for a bride during the summer.
His uncle and a priest with the Kollan Latin Diocese, John Edwin, said that his body was in the morgue of a Mumbai hospital before it could be taken to his home in Kollam. Father Edwin further said that Antony Edwin was an “affable boy who always sported a broad smile.”
His uncle also said that the deceased’s employer had not been helpful as the family members had to rely on Malayalees based in Mumbai and local Congress leaders in order to complete the necessary formalities for taking back his mortal remains to Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram, PTI reported.
FIR Registered Against P-305’s Captain
An FIR has been registered against the captain of Barge P-305, Balwinder Singh, for putting the lives of workers in danger during Cyclone ‘Tauktae,’ Mumbai Police said on Friday, 21 May,
The police further said that the FIR has been registered under 304(2), 338, 34 IPC at Yellowgate Police Station on the complaint of Sheikh Rahman, the Chief Engineer of P-305, NDTV reported.
Speaking to The Indian Express on Wednesday evening, Chief Engineer Rahman Shaikh, who survived the deluge, said that everyone on board could have been saved if 14 of the 16 accessible life rafts were not punctured and the Captain had taken cyclone warnings seriously.
Captain Singh is among those still missing at sea.
Who is Responsible For the Incident?
Now, the question arises whether ONGC and Afcons Infrastructure Ltd (AIL), for whom the Barge P-305 was a charter, have shunned the responsibility of returning of their crew members.
ONGC spokesperson issued a statement saying that 99 of its barges were in the sea. After warning on bad weather, 94 barges returned safely but P-305 did not.
Meanwhile, Afcons has said that of all its assets in the Arabian Sea, five vessels were stranded, including one oil rig Sagar Bhushan with 101 people on board, but all were rescued safely.
It revealed that it had a total of 1,290 people on 6 of its barges there, including 50 of its own (AIL) staffers, according to IANS.
The AIL said that the weather forecasts received on 14 May predicted that sustained windspeeds of maximum 40 knots (classified as a ‘Tropical Storm’) is likely to occur at its specific work locations late 16 May-early 17 May.
As a preventive measure, on 14 May, the AIL advised all its vessels to secure their respective work locations and move to safer locations on priority, and accordingly, its vessels and barges including Papaa-305 started moving out of their work areas on 14/15 May, and some reached Mumbai Port, its outer anchorage or near Revdanda (Raigad).
“However, the Master of Papaa-305 chose to move 200 metre away from the HT platform where it was working, and to remain at that location, deciding this as a safe location since the max predicted wind speed was only 40 knots and his location was 120 nautical miles away from the eye of the tropical storm,” the statement said.
NCP Leader, Shiv Sena Target ONGC, Central Govt
Nawab Malik, a minister in the MVA government in Maharashtra and NCP spokesperson, has made serious allegations against ONGC. He questioned the ONGC and central government that when they had been warned about the cyclone, why the employees were allowed to stay in the sea.
Malik has further demanded the resignation of Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan as he held him responsible for the deaths.
On the other hand, Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant has written a letter to PM Narendra Modi and demanded an investigation on ONGC’s head and that the said person should be removed from the post.
In Friday's Saamana editorial, the Shiv Sena has expressed regret over ignoring such a huge incident while taking a dig at PM Modi's Gujarat aerial tour after the cyclone.
Centre Forms High-Level Committee
The Union Petroleum Ministry on Wednesday, 19 May, set up a high-level committee to find out the reason behind ships being stranded despite the cyclone warning.
The committee includes Amitabh Kumar, Director General of Shipping, SCL Das, Director General of Hydrocarbons and Najali Jafri Shayin, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Defense. This committee will submit its report within a month.
(With inputs from Quint Hindi, NDTV, The Indian Express, PTI, IANS)