P305 tragedy: Mumbai court refuses bail to 3 officials of firm that owns barge
The sessions court on Friday rejected the bail plea of Prasad Rane, Nitin Singh and Akhilesh Tiwari – key staff members of Papaa Shipping Company Pvt Ltd – arrested in connection with barge Papaa305 (P305) that had capsized in the Arabian Sea during Cyclone Tauktae on May 17, resulting in the loss of 75 lives.
The three were arrested by Yellow Gate police in the first week of July on charges of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, endangering life or personal safety of others and common intention.
Rane is the office administrator of Papaa Shipping Company Pvt Ltd, while Singh is its director. Tiwari is the technical superintendent of the company. The trio had sought bail from the magistrate court but as it was rejected, they had moved the bail plea before the sessions court.
They argued that AFCONS company – which had engaged the barge and the staff thereon – and ONGC (Oil and Natural Gas Corporation) were responsible for the incident and had the authority to take a decision about moving the barge. They also contended that the captain of the barge had all the weather updates at his disposal, and it was his decision to stay at the sea. They claimed the decision taken by the captain might be wrong, but the accused persons cannot be blamed for that.
They said they had relied on WhatsApp chat and emails between them and the captain to claim that in the opinion of the captain, the barge was absolutely normal at all the material times, except during the last few hours, due to the extremely bad weather conditions.
“They were in constant touch with the captain and did their best to take every care of the barge and the members thereon. The barge was well-equipped with all the security and safety instruments. The incident is merely an accident,” the trio contended.
The police opposed the plea and claimed, “The accused persons did not exercise proper caution and control over the situation. They, despite being aware of the increasing severity of the cyclone, let the captain go ahead with his decision to stay at the sea. They had every knowledge that their decision would bring forth a disastrous result. Yet they did nothing to save the lives of the members on the barge.”
After hearing both the sides, the court refused to accept the defence that the three were in constant touch with the captain and went by his decision.
The court said, “Such correspondence cannot be given much significance at this initial stage, particularly in view of the fact that only the barge in question was there in the seas and all other barges and boats had already returned to the shore/shelter.”
“It is also quite obvious that the accused persons too had every knowledge of the fast-changing weather conditions and still did not make any attempt to apprise the captain of the severity of the cyclone from their side. They apparently were content with whatever the captain would decide. The accused persons thus did not exercise the proper caution that was expected of them. That was more necessary since the captain was obviously not taking a proper decision of keeping the only barge in question at the sea,” read the order.
The court also noted that soon after registering the case, the police found that a CPU, supposedly containing all the relevant data, was found missing.
“This rather extends substantial credence to the prosecution case that the accused had every knowledge of the havoc and the impact that the cyclone was going to make and yet let the barge and its members were allowed to stay at the sea,” read the order.