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Cyclone Tauktae: Rescued from barges P-305 and Gal constructor, survivor relive horror

“A 15-20 minute delay by the naval rescue team would have cost me my life,” said Satish Narwal, 32, one of the workers on-board P-305 – a barge carrying 273 workers on-board which got disconnected from an oil rig in Bombay High owing to the winds from cyclone Tauktae and sank about 35 nautical miles from Mumbai on Monday – who was found almost 18 hours after he jumped into the Arabian Sea
By Manish K Pathak, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON MAY 19, 2021 12:29 AM IST

“A 15-20 minute delay by the naval rescue team would have cost me my life,” said Satish Narwal, 32, one of the workers on-board P-305 – a barge carrying 273 workers on-board which got disconnected from an oil rig in Bombay High owing to the winds from cyclone Tauktae and sank about 35 nautical miles from Mumbai on Monday – who was found almost 18 hours after he jumped into the Arabian Sea. At the time of going to press, search for the remaining 93 workers was on.

Narwal floated and drifted in the sea with life jacket as his only support, saying his body would have given up if the Navy team wouldn’t have reached in time. The 32-year-old, who worked as a gas cutter for seven months, didn’t expect to survive the rough sea, which is why he took care to put his Aadhaar card in his pocket before jumping into the sea. “I thought it would make it easier for the authorities to identify me, in case my body was found somewhere,” he said.

On Sunday, after work, he went to his makeshift residential quarters on P-305, an accommodation barge. “We were aware of the warnings about the cyclonic storm that was likely to hit the west coast. We realised it was more windy than usual,” said Narwal, “After 10pm on Sunday, perhaps the time when the cyclone passed the city’s coast and moved towards Gujarat, the sea became very stormy. Soon, our barge got disconnected from the oil rig and started floating away. We were not worried initially, as the power supply was on and everything seemed normal. However, soon, the lights went off and water started gushing into the compartments on the barge, forcing the occupants to gather on the deck wearing life jackets in the dark.”

Narwal and his co-workers waited for hours for external help. “As the water level inside the barge increased on Monday afternoon, some jumped into the rough sea, when the winds were blowing at a high speed,” said the father of two. “I could hold on till 3pm and finally jumped, with the hope that Navy or Coast Guard will come to our rescue by sunset.”

Narwal stayed afloat the entire night, remembering his wife, 9-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter and every family member and friend. Soon, he felt drained, which made him disoriented. “The sunrise gave me some hope. Finally, I saw a helicopter hovering around me around 9am. I gathered all my strength and waved my right hand in air and succeeded in attracting attention of the naval rescue team,” he said.

Khopoli resident Pramod Barai, 36, a senior engineer, who was on barge P-305, also had to spend hours in the sea before he was picked up by a Navy helicopter at 11.30am on Tuesday. He was so traumatised when he was brought by the naval rescue team at INS Shikra in Mumbai that he could barely speak.

The nightmare ended early for Leenas Alphonse, 50, a native of Tamil Nadu, who worked on Mumbai High oil rigs as a crane operator and was on Gal constructor, another barge that was being tugged to the Mumbai harbour. On Saturday, they took their dinner early and started their journey towards Mumbai. The barge was being tied by a tugboat, to bring the 137 workers on-board to safety.

On Sunday evening, rough weather disconnected the barge from the tugboat and Gal Constructor started drifting away. After floating for some distance, foreman Anand Menon put the four anchors to hold the barge in place, but the anchors broke due to high waves and gusty winds around 11pm on Sunday and the barge started drifting northward. It floated towards Satpati in Palghar district and went aground about 48 nautical miles away from Colaba. The workers on-board spent the night and day without power and food. They started worrying when water started to enter the engine room around 8pm on Monday. “I called my wife and spoke to my 23-year-old daughter on her phone. I narrated the entire sequence of events and instructed her to take care of herself and her mother, as I wasn’t expecting to survive the rough sea. Both of us cried, but my daughter promised me that she would not immediately tell her mother about the situation,” said Alphonse.

The Coast Guard (CG) on Tuesday rescued all 137 crew on-board the barge.

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