Cyclone Tauktae: Barge’s missing master booked for ‘negligence’
Mumbai Police on Friday filed an FIR against the captain of a barge that sank in the Arabian Sea after being battered by Cyclone Tauktae for alleged negligence and violating safety rules as the death toll from the powerful storm climbed to 60.
Police booked master of the barge P305, Rakesh Ballav, for culpable homicide, causing grievous hurt and negligence.
“We have registered a complaint against the captain [of the barge] and others on the basis of a statement given by 49-year-old Mistafizur Rahman Hussain Shaikh, who was part of maintenance crew of the barge,” said joint commissioner of police Vishwas Nangre Patil (Law and Order).
Ballav is one of 15 people who were on board P305 and are still missing, four days after Tauktae barreled through India’s western coast.
At least 186 people have been rescued out of the 261 on board the barge that sank after the storm hit the Bombay High oilfield on Monday near Mumbai, where some of the country’s biggest offshore oil rigs are located.
P305 and two other barges pounded by the cyclone were deployed by Afcons Infrastructure for a contract from state-owned major, Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC). Both Afcons and ONGC announced compensation for the deceased on Friday.
Ballav’s role came under focus after Shaikh accused him and other officials of overlooking weather alerts and failing to take appropriate care despite knowing the lapse could result in deaths.
There was no response from captain’s family. Police said no one has approached them from Ballav’s family till now.
In his statement to police, Shaikh, a Malad resident, said the barge was anchored near an unmanned platform in Heera oil fields and gale-force winds snapped all anchors of the vessel around 8am on Monday. The vessel had sent an earlier distress signal to a tugboat, which was unable to help.
The barge started drifting out to sea and hit a platform at 9.45 am on Monday. This caused water to start gushing in that side of the barge, and the captain sent a distress signal to Navy and other authorities.
Afcons Infrastructure said the master of P305 chose to stay in the sea near the platform where it was working, despite receiving instructions for returning to Mumbai harbour in the wake of cyclone warnings. It also said the responsibility of all marine operations lay with the owners, Durmast Enterprises.
The “extremely severe” cyclone, the most powerful one to hit the region in over two decades, caused gusts of wind up to 210kmph and nine-metre-high waves as it raced past Mumbai and made landfall in Gujarat on Monday night.
Over the last four days, navy rescuers have pulled out 60 bodies – including 11 on Friday – but at least 26 people, 15 from the barge and 11 from a tugboat, are still missing.
Coast Guard has alerted fishermen and coastal police to keep a lookout in shallow waters for survivors or bodies of crewmembers.
Commander Mehul Karnik, chief public relations officer of the Western Naval Command, said the search and rescue operations on Friday involved the INS Kochi, Talwar, Tejas, Betwa and Beas.
Their efforts were augmented by aerial survey undertaken by P8I surveillance aircraft and two each of Sea King, Chetak and advanced light helicopters. Coast Guard units have also joined the search for the missing crew of P305.
Navy said that it will deploy INS Survey for underwater searches to locate the wreckage of the barge, and Varaprada.
Naval officers said they have widened the search to a rectangular area of around 3,200 square miles (80 miles north-south by 40 miles east-west).
The search area, the officers said, leans more towards north of the spot where P305 capsized, as more bodies were found there. The Navy is relying more on visual search and aerial surveillance, but they are also using radars to track lifeboats or inflatable rafts floating in the sea.
They added that the possibility of the bodies of some crew members being trapped in the barge could not be ruled out.
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Afcons Infrastructure said it will provide compensation that would be a combination of ex-gratia payouts and insurance compensation, and range from ₹35 lakh to ₹75 lakh per family. The compensation would be “equivalent to balance period of service up to 10 years’ salaries” and would be paid to “not only the families of the deceased persons on its direct rolls, but also families of all deceased persons who were employed with its subcontractors,” a statement released Friday said. The company also stated that it will set up a trust to support the education of the children of the deceased.
ONGC on Friday also announced that it would extend an immediate relief of ₹1 lakh to the survivors and ₹2 lakh to the families of the deceased and missing crew members of P305.