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Barge master chose to stay close to oil field: Afcons Infrastructure

Afcons Infrastructure, the company which chartered Papaa 305 (P305) that sank off the coast of Mumbai on May 17 due to Cyclone Tauktae claimed on Thursday that the barge master chose to stay close to the oil field where P305 was anchored though he was warned of the storm three days in advance
By HT Correspondent, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON MAY 21, 2021 12:09 AM IST

Afcons Infrastructure, the company which chartered Papaa 305 (P305) that sank off the coast of Mumbai on May 17 due to Cyclone Tauktae claimed on Thursday that the barge master chose to stay close to the oil field where P305 was anchored though he was warned of the storm three days in advance.

The weather forecast received on May 14, 2021 “predicted sustained wind speed of maximum 40 knots (classified as a “Tropical Storm” by our service provider) was likely to occur at our specific work location late 16th or early 17th May 2021.”

“While the other barges moved to Mumbai port or outer anchorage, the Master of P305 chose to move 200m away from the platform where they were working, and to remain at that location, deciding this as a safe location since the maximum predicted wind speed was only 40 knots and his location was 120 NM [nautical miles] way from the eye of the tropical storm,” a statement issued by Afcons on Thursday read.

“Durmast is the owner and the responsibility for marine operations rests with the vessel owner and his marine crew stationed on the vessel... Afcons, as charterer deploys its construction workmen and supervisors, who stay on the barge and carry out construction or revamp work on the platform,” the statement added.

Afcons further claimed that the responsibility for the marine side of the operations, namely safe vessel operation, navigation and vessel management, come under the scope of work of the vessel owners, carried out through the vessel’s master, officers, and the crew appointed on the vessel by the owner.

A statement from Durmast Enterprises is awaited.

P305, an accommodation barge with 261 personnel on-board, sent out a distress call on Monday morning, following the intensification of Tauktae to an extremely severe cyclonic storm. The people on board comprised marine crew, labourers on contract, as well as 13 employees of Afcons.

Till now, 186 people have been rescued, while 49 bodies have been recovered in the Search and Rescue (SAR) operations launched by the Indian Navy and the coast guard late Monday.

The barge, owned and operated by M/s Durmast Enterprises Limited, was chartered by Afcons and consortium partner Halani-TES-Nauvata to work on a project for the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) in the Western Offshore fields in the Arabian sea. The barge was located 72 km off the coast of Mumbai in the Heera Oil Fields in Bombay High, where some of the country’s biggest offshore oil rigs are located.

Two other barges chartered by Afcons were battered by the cyclone, but all on board were rescued, including 137 on board barge Gal Constructor, which ran aground about 90km north of Mumbai’s Colaba Point, and 196 on board barge SS-3. The 101 on board oil rig Sagar Bhushan, which was also set adrift due to the gusty winds, were brought to safety as well, an official involved in the SAR operations said. However, a tugboat with 11 members on board, remains missing.

The statement said that the consortium followed the standard practise of offshore contractors to hire a service provider for location-specific weather forecast, which is issued twice a day.

“The sudden deterioration of weather left no time at all for any further action to be taken by the Master of the vessel,” the statement added.

Afcons has also set up a 24-hour help desk to address concerns of all distressed family members of the affected crew. The helpline provides updates to family members about every development of the rescue operation. “We’re fully committed to stand in this crisis together and offer our full support to the families, including financial assistance,” Afcons stated.

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