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INS Kochi baack with 125 survivors of P305

Two days after conducting search and rescue operation (SAR), the Indian Naval Ship (INS) Kochi returned to Tiger Gate in Mumbai harbour on Wednesday morning carrying 125 survivors of Barge P305, one of the three barges that was carried adrift after Cyclone Tautkae, an extremely severe cyclonic storm, passed over the Arabian Sea between May 16 and 17
By Manish K Pathak, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON MAY 20, 2021 01:26 AM IST

Two days after conducting search and rescue operation (SAR), the Indian Naval Ship (INS) Kochi returned to Tiger Gate in Mumbai harbour on Wednesday morning carrying 125 survivors of Barge P305, one of the three barges that was carried adrift after Cyclone Tautkae, an extremely severe cyclonic storm, passed over the Arabian Sea between May 16 and 17.

The barge, anchored near a rig in Heera Oil Fields, roughly 40 nautical miles (72 km) west of Mumbai in Arabian Sea, began to drift around 10.15pm on Sunday after all of its 12 anchors broke off. As the cyclone began to cross Mumbai latitude at 12.37 pm, 120-130 km off the coast of the city, water began to enter the barge, forcing all of its 261 occupants to move to the deck. Around 2 pm, the barge began to tilt and go underwater. Within five hours, it sank completely.

Some, like Indrajeet Sharma, 33, started jumping into the water before the barge finally went underwater at 7pm. “I had no other option except jumping into the sea to save my life on Monday. I jumped around 6pm, an hour before the barge sank,” Sharma, a senior engineer who had been working on the barge since last May, said.

“After spending 8 hours in the water, I was rescued by INS Kochi at 2am on Tuesday. I could not open my eyes for almost 24 hours as I spent several hours in the salty water,” he said.

The barge, owned and operated by Durmast Enterprises Limited, had been chartered by a consortium led by Afcons Infrastructure Limited for an Oil and Natural Gas (ONGC) project in the Western Offshore fields in the Arabian Sea. The people on board comprised marine crew, labourers on contract, and employee of Afcons.

On Monday morning, the Indian Navy received a distress call from P305 and immediately dispatched three ships -- INS Kochi, Talwar and Kolkata -- to rescue the people, even as inclement weather made the search and rescue operations difficult. INS Kochi, which left Mumbai harbour around 10am on Monday, was the first to reach the site at 4pm. INS Kolkata reached around midnight. The Navy also deployed helicopters and aircraft to conduct aerial surveys. Other ships, including offshore support vessels, multipurpose support vessels and Coast Guard vessels got involved in the SAR operations the following day.

“Our employer thought that nothing would happen in the cyclone due to which we faced the most terrifying day of our lives,” said Faraz Nadkar, 22, an architect who joined the barge a few months ago.

“We waited till the last moment when the ship was just about to sink. We (five to six people) jumped in wearing life jackets. We held each other’s hands for courage. We decided that if we would die, we’d die together. We spent around 12 hours in the water and for most of the time we spoke of our families,” Nadkar said.

“The Indian Naval Ship reached in the evening and rescued us at 6am on Tuesday,” said Nadkar.

“I lost everything including my passport and prayed to God all night that I would live to see my parents again,” said Sunil Kumar Madhesia (22), who hails from Kushinagar, Uttar Pradesh. “We saw our ship sink and several people on the deck were falling into the sea. [We] spent more than 10 hours in stormy water when the Navy rescued 12 people out of our group of 14 on Tuesday morning. Two are still missing,” said Madhesia, who worked as a helper on the barge.

“It is the mistake of the company to not take the decision to send us to Mumbai from the high sea,” said Dombivali resident Deepak Ingle, 30, a technician who started work on the barge in December.

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