P305 barge tragedy: Director of shipping company, 2 others arrested by Mumbai Police
Yellow Gate police in south Mumbai on Friday late night arrested three key management members of Papaa Shipping Company Pvt Ltd, Vile Parle, in connection with accommodation barge Papaa305 (P305) that had capsized in the Arabian Sea during Cyclone Tauktae on May 17, resulting in the loss of 75 lives.
Deputy commissioner of police (port zone) Ganesh Shinde confirmed the development.
Police officers said that the accused – Prasad Ganpat Rane, Nitin Dinanath Singh and Akhilesh Tiwari – acted irresponsibly, and the lives of many onboard were lost because of their negligent acts, and hence they have been arrested on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, endangering life or personal safety of others and common intention.
Rane is the manager of Papaa Shipping, while Singh and Tiwari are director and technical superintendent, respectively.
A local court has remanded them in police custody till July 8.
Of the 261 people on board, the Indian Navy had rescued 186 in one of the most difficult search and rescue operations of recent times.
Afcons Infrastructure Private Limited had hired P305 on a rental basis from Durmast Enterprises Limited for work in Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) field. Afcons had sub-contracted the works to various companies and had made accommodation arrangements for their workers in barge P305.
There were around 23 crew members of Papaa Shipping on the barge along with other employees of other shipping companies. A service contract to Papaa Shipping was given by Durmast Enterprises Limited.
“The arrested men were well-aware of the serious warning issued by the authority concerned in connection with Cyclone Tauktae. Despite this, they neither called back their employees from the barge nor did they ask them to shift to a safer place. They were also aware of the decision taken [on the basis of miscalculated judgement] by the barge’s master [which later proved fatal for everyone on the barge]. They could have still called back their employees to safety. But they failed to do so and all of their crew members lost their lives in the incident. Hence, they have been arrested in the case,” said senior inspector Suhas Hemade of Yellow Gate police station.
Another director of Papaa Shipping, Shilpa Kanojiya, is also an accused in the case, but has not been arrested yet, Hemade added.
Initially, a first information report (FIR) in the matter was registered on May 21 against the master of the barge Rakesh Ballav and some others on the basis of the statement of Mistafizur Rahman Hussain Shaikh, who was part of the maintenance crew of the vessel.
Shaikh had accused Ballav and others of overlooking the weather alerts and for failing to take appropriate care despite knowing that the lapse could result in loss of lives.
As per the police complaint, the barge was anchored near an unmanned platform in Heera oil fields. Around 11pm on May 16, the wind speed started to increase. An hour later, the wind speed almost doubled, and the crew could hear the sound of the roaring storm. At 2am, two of the eight anchor cables of the barge gave way and the captain send a distress message to a tug boat, which was supposed to be around. However, the boat was about 16 nautical miles away and expressed its inability to move in the stormy weather.
In the statement, Shaikh further alleged that at 4am, two more anchor cables broke and the barge started experiencing huge jerks. Eventually by 8am, all the anchors gave way and the barge started drifting when the wind speed was about 60/70 knots. Later, the barge hit a platform around 9.45am and water started gushing inside, following which the captain finally sent a distress signal to the navy and other authorities.
The police have recorded the statements of more than 100 survivors, rescued by the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard from barge P305.
Afcons Infrastructure, which led the consortium that had chartered the ill-fated barge along with its marine crew, had earlier said that the master of P305 had chosen to stay in the sea near the platform where it was working despite receiving instructions for returning to Mumbai Harbour in the wake of warnings for Cyclone Tauktae.
Yellow Gate police are also investigating another FIR, which was registered on June 24 in connection with tug boat Varaprada, which sank on May 17 during Cyclone Tauktae.
In that case, the police have booked the owner of the tug boat – Glory Shipmanagment Pvt Ltd – alleging that it did not carry out the required maintenance and repairing works, and their irresponsible act resulted in a tragic incident in which 11 people died. The complainant, Francis K Simon, who was the second engineer of the boat and one of its only two survivors, told the police that due to poor maintenance, the boat was not seaworthy and had also lost its stability on the fateful night and sank leading to the deaths of 11 people. The owner was well-aware of the boat’s defective conditions, he alleged in the FIR. No arrest has been made in this case yet.