Cyclone Tauktae: Barge toll now 49, hope fades for 37 still missing
The Indian Navy on Thursday recovered 23 more bodies of crew members of accommodation barge P305, which de-anchored and sank in the Heera oil fields in the Arabian Sea, hours before the powerful cyclone Tauktae battered the region late on Monday. The toll has risen to 49, as rescuers continue to search for 37 more personnel.
Three barges and an anchor boat deployed by private contractor Afcons for a project it was doing for the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), and a drillship of a state-owned firm lost anchors and drifted away in cyclonic winds of up to 210 kmph. While 440 personnel on two barges and the drillship were brought to safety, barge P305, carrying 261 personnel, sank. Of the 261, 186 were rescued and the bodies of 49 have been recovered, officials said. Search for the remaining 26 is still on. Of the 13 on anchor boat Varaprada, two have been rescued, while the search for the remaining 11 is on.
Commander Mehul Karnik, chief public relations officer of the Western Naval Command, said search and rescue (SAR) operations were renewed from Thursday morning and the SAR involves Indian Navy Ship (INS) Kochi, Talwar, Tejas, Betwa and Beas.
The efforts are being augmented by the aerial surveys undertaken by P-8I surveillance aircrafts and two Sea King helicopters, Chetak and advanced light helicopters. Coast Guard units have also joined the search for the missing crew.
Navy officials said the search was initially limited to an area of 550-750 square kilometres, and after bodies were found to have drifted further, the search area was increased from Wednesday night and by Thursday evening it was widened to 1,800-2,300 square kilometres. Officials said the area would be further increased, if required.
Barge P305 was deployed at a platform in Heera oil fields, one of the largest ONGC rigs in the Arabian Sea. It got de-anchored on Sunday night and according to deputy chief of naval staff, vice admiral Murlidhar Sadashiv Pawar, sank around 7pm on Monday in a very choppy sea and rough weather, making the subsequent search and rescue operation “one of the most challenging operations undertaken by the Navy in four decades”.
Afcons Infrastructure, which leads the consortium that had chartered barge P305, along with its marine crew — mostly skilled and semi-skilled labourers — said there were in all 261 crew members on board the barge, including 13 Afcons employees. The Navy had received an SOS from the barge on Monday morning, following which, three warships — INS Kochi, INS Talwar and INS Kolkata — were dispatched for the SAR operation, along with two Sea King and two Chetak helicopters. The aerial surveillance was augmented by two P-8I surveillance aircrafts.
Meanwhile, the Yellow Gate police station in Mumbai registered 22 accidental death reports (ADRs) after 22 bodies were brought to Mumbai, of the 49 recovered, on Thursday. The bodies have been sent for post-mortem to JJ Hospital. Police sources said 16 of the 22 bodies were identified and the process of identification of the remaining 6 was going on at JJ Hospital, where relatives of the deceased have arrived to claim the bodies.