Barge P305 tragedy: Four more bodies recovered; toll touches 70

Barge P305, which was deployed at an unmanned platform in Heera oil fields, one of the largest ONGC rigs in the sea, sank about 40 nautical miles west off Mumbai.
Relatives of deceased in P305 barge incident who came to collect the body at JJ Hospital mortuary in Mumbai, India, on Sunday, May 23, 2021. (Photo by Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times)
Relatives of deceased in P305 barge incident who came to collect the body at JJ Hospital mortuary in Mumbai, India, on Sunday, May 23, 2021. (Photo by Anshuman Poyrekar/Hindustan Times)
Updated on May 24, 2021 06:17 AM IST
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By Manish Pathak, Mumbai

The Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard (ICG) found four more bodies of crew members of barge Papaa305 (P305), which capsized in the Arabian Sea hours after cyclone Tauktae hit the Mumbai coast on May 17, on the seventh day of search and rescue (SAR) operation. The toll of the mishap has now touched 70. Meanwhile the wreck of barge P305 was located on the sea bed.

Barge P305, which was deployed at an unmanned platform in Heera oil fields, one of the largest ONGC rigs in the sea, sank about 40 nautical miles west off Mumbai. As Cyclone Tauktae hit the Mumbai coast, the barge got de-anchored on the night of May 16, and hit a platform while drifting in the rough sea. It sank around 7pm on May 17 in choppy seas amid rough weather, which made search and rescue one of the most challenging operations undertaken by the Navy in four decades. Afcons Infrastructure, which leads the consortium that chartered the barge and hired its crew, said 261 members on board and Indian Navy and ICG rescued 186 members and found 70 bodies. A tugboat Varaprada carrying 13 crew members also capsized the same day. Two of its members were rescued by the Navy, while 11 are still missing.

The agencies claimed on Sunday they found 17 more bodies at different beaches in Raigad district, Palghar and Valsad at Gujarat. Four of them were found to be of the P305 crew. Officials said seven bodies were recovered from Valsad, one from Daman at Gujarat, one from Arnala beach in Palghar district and eight bodies were found at Alibag, Murud, Nagaon and Sasawne in Raigad district, Maharashtra.

A police team from Yellow Gate police station, along with those rescued from P305 and Varaprada, went to Valsad to establish the identities. “We are co-ordinating with the local authorities in Raigad, Daman and Valsad to check if the bodies are of any crew members of the cyclone-hit barges or other fishing boats. The team has also gone with rescued crew members for identifications,” said Suhas Hemade, senior inspector, Yellow Gate police station.

Some of the bodies are in decomposed condition and bloated so DNA tests are being conducted to ascertain the identity, said an officer from the Yellow Gate police station.

“Barge P305 was located on the seabed after systematic search by INS Maker employing advance side scan sonar. The diving started in the morning and managed to pinpoint the sunken wreck of P305 by specialised teams on board INS Maker and no bodies have been found,” said a Navy officer.

INS Maker is proceeding to locate the wreck of tug Varaprada and diving operation will be conducted on Monday, added Navy officials. The search and rescue operation by naval and coast guard ships and helicopters will continue in the area to locate the remaining crew of the sunken vessels, said the officer.

So far, 45 bodies have been identified in JJ hospital and 44 handed over to their respective families. Several other recovered bodies are in JJ hospital, but the police are securing DNA samples to ascertain their identity for the families, said a police officer.

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Thursday, October 21, 2021