The Navy recovers all missing bodies from P-305, the barge that was hit by Cyclone Tauktae

Published : May 24, 2021 16:22 IST

The diving team onboard INS Makar which went on search-and-rescue ops for the missing crew of Barge P-305 and the tug boat Varapradha, in Mumbai on May 22. Photo: PTI

After a week of searching for 85 missing people who were feared drowned when a barge sank off the Raigad coast on May 17, the Indian Navy said all the bodies have been found. Barge P-305, an accommodation barge connected to an off-shore site of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC), began sinking after it was hit by Cyclone Tauktae. While 187 personnel of the 261 on board the vessel were saved, it took the Indian Navy several days to find the bodies of the missing people. Eleven bodies were found on a tug boat that steered the barge.

The Indian Navy has been searching an area of approximately 10,000 square miles around the spot where P-305 was located. An official statement from the Indian Navy said the barge was positioned approximately 50 kilometres north of Mumbai and preliminary findings indicated that it began sinking by about 7 p.m. on May 17 when the cyclone was at it fiercest. Lifeboats that were hooked to the barge were damaged and therefore could not be used by the workers, who were all employed by the oil and gas major. A Naval rescue officer said most of those saved were found floating in groups and could be identified by the lights blinking on their life jackets.

Bodies were washing up in Raigad in Maharashtra and Valsad in Gujarat until May 23. Once all those missing were accounted for, the Navy released the news to relatives. The Navy says the bodies have been kept at the J.J. Hospital in Mumbai and DNA samples will be taken to identify the dead.

There were five vessels, all connected to ONGC, which were at sea and in an extremely dangerous situation when the cyclone hit, said the Naval officer. Barge Gal Constructor, which had 137 people on board, did not have any casualties. The vessel Sagar Bhushan and Support Station Three also did not have any casualty as the Navy was able to rescue the personnel in time.

“We do not know as yet what caused the tragedy, but it can be said that safety and rescue equipment were inadequate. It was the sheer will to live that saved those that we found,” said the officer. “The blame game has begun. It is a terrible unfortunate incident. Too many lives were lost when all they needed to was heed the warnings,” he said.

On May 21, following a complaint lodged by a P-305 engineer, the Mumbai Police filed a first information report (FIR) against the captain of the barge for allegedly ignoring the cyclone warnings.