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P305 tragedy: 11 recovered bodies yet to be identified, say Mumbai Police

Two months after the ill-fated barge Papaa305 (P305) and tug boat Varaprada had capsized in the Arabian Sea, the 11 recovered bodies are lying unidentified in the morgue of Mumbai’s Sir JJ Hospital, even as the families of 10 victims are still waiting to receive the mortal remains of their loved ones
By Manish K Pathak
UPDATED ON JUL 17, 2021 01:20 AM IST

Two months after the ill-fated barge Papaa305 (P305) and tug boat Varaprada had capsized in the Arabian Sea, the 11 recovered bodies are lying unidentified in the morgue of Mumbai’s Sir JJ Hospital, even as the families of 10 victims are still waiting to receive the mortal remains of their loved ones.

Eighty-six persons (75 from P305 and 11 from tug boat) are missing in the incident on May 17 after Cyclone Tauktae hit the city.

An officer from Yellow Gate police station said, “The bodies of 67 crew members of P305 and one crew member of Varaprada have been identified so far.”

Of the 13 on board Varaprada, 11 had died, while two were rescued by the Indian Navy.

Accommodation barge P305, with 261 people on board, had capsized in the evening near Bombay High oil field. After an SOS was sent, the Indian Navy and Coast Guard conducted a massive search and rescue operation and rescued 186 people on board P305 in eight days. They also recovered 71 bodies of the 75 missing people from P305. Of the 68 identified, one body happens to be a crew member of Varaprada.

The police said 17 more bodies (seven from Valsad; one each from Daman and Arnala beach and eight from Alibag, Murud, Nagaon and Sasawne in Raigad district) have also been recovered.

Inspector Suhas Hemade of Yellow Gate police station said, “Till date, all the eight bodies recovered from Raigad and three of the 71 bodies recovered by the Indian Navy are still lying unidentified at Sir JJ Hospital’s morgue. Of the eight bodies found at Daman and Valsad, seven turned out to be crew members of Varaprada and they were identified by their family members.”

He said the bodies that arrived late were decomposed, making them very difficult to be identified.

In a bid to identify all the bodies, the police are in the process of collecting DNA samples of the families so that they can be matched with the bodies in the morgue.

The police have also contacted their counterparts in Goa, Daman and Gujarat and requested them to conduct DNA profiling of the bodies lying in their respective morgues since the past two months to bring an end to the agony of the families, said a police officer.

Yellow gate police had called four families of missing crew members on Monday and Tuesday from Bihar and Punjab, respectively, and their tissue samples were collected for DNA profiling.

“We have also got permission to send teams to Bhopal, Uttarakhand, Kolkata and Valsad for collecting tissue samples of family members of those whose bodies are yet to be identified,” Hemade added.

The 10 family members of the crew members, whose bodies are yet to be identified, are eagerly awaiting some news on their loved ones.

The family of Pankajkumar Das, who worked as a cook on P305, has no clue on what to expect. His father Khokan said there are many questions which remain unanswered.

“Pankaj’s mother just returned after giving blood samples. We are asked to wait for at least 10-15 days for the reports. We just want to know what happened and need a closure,” said Khokan, a farmer from Mirzapur in West Bengal.

The authorities had taken blood samples of Das’s elder brother and father too, but they did not match with any of the bodies. Hence, his mother’s blood samples were taken for further DNA sampling, Khokan said.

Vibhadevi, wife of Pramod Kumar, another crew, is equally clueless. Kumar had boarded Barge 305 on October 18, 2020, and had last called the family during the cyclone, Vibhadevi said.

“He spoke to my son and gave him blessings. But when I took over, the call got disconnected. We tried a lot to call him back, but couldn’t get through. We hoped that he would call once he gets free. But the call never came,” said Vibhadevi, a resident of Madhepura in Bihar.

The mother of two daughters and a son, Vibhadevi is now worried about the future of her children, as Pramod Kumar was the only earning member of the family.

His younger brother Lallan said they are all desperately waiting for some news about his brother.

“My parents and I have given blood samples for DNA tests. My father and my tissue samples did not match and therefore, I had to take my mother for tests. We are now asked to wait for reports,” Lallan said.

Investigation

Yellow Gate police have registered a first information report (FIR) in the incident on May 21 against Rakesh Ballav, the master of barge P305 and some others, based on 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 the loss of lives.

During the course of investigation, police found the involvement of some officials of Papaa Shipping Company and arrested three key management persons – Prasad Ganpat Rane, Nitin Dinanath Singh and Akhilesh Tiwari on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, endangering life or personal safety of others and common intention of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). They are in judicial custody. Rane is the manager of Papaa Shipping Company, while Singh and Tiwari are the director and technical superintendent, respectively.

The police said Rane, Singh and Tiwari were well aware of the weather warnings issued by the authorities in the connection with Cyclone Tauktae and were appointed to get daily progress reports of the employees.

Yellow Gate police on June 24 registered a second case against Rajesh Shahi, the managing director of Glory Ship Management, which owns Varaprada. He’s booked under culpable homicide not amounting to murder and common intention, based on a complaint of Francis K Simon, the chief engineer of the tugboat and one of the survivors.

A police team had been to Kerala and recorded the statement of Simon, who alleged that the company did not carry out the required maintenance and repair works, and their irresponsible act resulted in a tragic incident in which 11 people of the tug boat died. Simon also alleged that the boat was not seaworthy and the owner was well aware of the boat’s defective conditions, said a police officer.

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