Barge P305 tragedy: Toll rises to 60
Four days after barge P305 (Papaa 305) sank off the coast of Mumbai in the Arabian Sea due to the extremely severe cyclonic storm that skirted the coastline earlier this week, the Indian Navy’s Search and Rescue (SAR) operations recovered 11 more bodies of crew members on Friday, taking the death toll to 60.
Afcons Infrastructure Limited, which led a cornsortium that chartered P305 to complete a contract with state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) in its Western Outshore fields, announced on Friday that it would provide compensation to the families of the deceased that would be a combination of ex-gratia pay-outs and insurance compensation and would range from ₹35 lakh to ₹75 lakh per family. The compensation would be “equivalent to balance period of service up to 10 years’ salaries” and would be paid to “not only the families of the deceased persons on its direct rolls, but also families of all deceased persons who were employed with its subcontractors,” a statement released Friday said. It also stated that it will set up a trust to support the education of the children of the deceased.
ONGC on Friday also announced that it would extend an immediate relief of ₹1 lakh to the survivors and ₹2 lakh to the families of the deceased and missing crew members of P305.
Afcons had on Thursday issued a statement claiming that the P305 was owned by Durmast Enterprises, and the master of the barge remained near the location even though the storm warning had been issued and conveyed to the barge on May 14. The master, Rakesh Ballav, against whom a complaint was registered at the Yellow Gate police station for endangering the lives of crew members on Friday, remains missing.
The barge with 261 persons on board got unmoored on Sunday evening and sank on Monday at 7pm near Heera Oil Fields, 40 nautical miles off the Mumbai coast even as Cyclone Tauktae crossed the Konkan coastline making its way north towards Gujarat. It intensified early Monday with wind speed of 185 km/hour gusting to 200 km/hour. Five naval ships, two helicopters, an aircraft and coast guard vessels began to conduct rescue operations late Monday night onwards. So far, 186 persons have been rescued, while 15 are missing. The operations are also searching for 11 members onboard Varaprada, a tugboat which was reported missing after Cyclone Tauktae.
As of Friday night, 16 bodies have been handed over to the families by the civic-run JJ Hospital, and at least 26 bodies have been identified.
The Coast Guard said that the fisheries department, fishermen’s association and the coastal police of Maharashtra and Daman Diu have also been alerted to keep a lookout in shallow waters for survivors or bodies of crew members.
Commander Mehul Karnik, chief public relations officer of the Western Naval Command, said that the SAR on Friday involved INS Kochi, Talwar, Tejas, Betwa and Beas. Their efforts were augmented by aerial survey undertaken by P8I surveillance aircraft and two each of Sea King, Chetak and advanced light helicopters. Coast Guard units have also joined the search for the missing crew of P305.
The Indian Navy said that it was going to deploy INS Survey to start conducting underwater searches to locate the wreckage of the barge, and Varaprada.
Naval officers said that they have widened the search to a rectangular area of around 3,200 square miles (80 miles north-south by 40 miles east-west). The search area, the officers said, leans more towards north of the spot where P305 capsized, as more bodies were found there. The Navy is relying more on visual search and aerial surveillance, but they are also using radars to track lifeboats or inflatable rafts floating in the sea.
They added that possibility of the bodies of some crew members being trapped in the barge cannot be ruled out.
The officers said that coastal police stations have been alerted about the possibility of bodies reaching the shore and instructed to immediately inform the Yellow Gate police in Mumbai in case they find any unidentified body or bodies along seashore.
Of the 261 personnel on board the barge, 13 were Afcons employees while others were employees of the barge, including its marine crew as well as skilled and semi-skilled labourers on contract.
“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.
(With inputs from Vijay Yadav)