Barge tragedy: Ministry team video records chief engineer's statement

A team from the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas recorded the statement of the chief engineer of barge Papaa (P-305) which capsized and sank 70 km off the Mumbai coast due to cyclone Tauktae on May 17.

The statement of chief engineer Mustafizur Rehman Shaikh (48) has been video recorded by the team which visited him on Tuesday at Apollo hospital in Tardeo, where he is recuperating.

According to sources, Shaikh in his statement said that the barge master and ‘companies’ are responsible for the mishap as they were not in the favour of moving the barge despite the cyclone warning. He also alleged that the barge master was adamant and did not take a timely decision, and that instead of thinking about the safety of personnel on board, financial considerations took precedence. They miscalculated and thought moving 200 meters away would be enough, while the other vessels there were moving to safer locations, he said in his statement.

The team will also speak to other survivors and the Navy rescue team and will prepare a report after speaking to experts. The report will be submitted to DG Shipping which will also recreate the mishap using a simulator before deciding the course of action.

The Ministry has already set up a High-Level Committee two days after the incident to enquire into the sequence of events. While the DG Shipping has formed two investigation teams, a nautical advisor will investigate the probe while the other team will make a note so that such mishap can be averted in future.

Based on Shaikh's statement the Yellow Gate police had registered an offence of culpable homicide not amounting to murder against the barge captain Rakesh Ballav and others. The police have so far recorded statements of over 100 rescued crew members, they have also issued summons to the barge company and its charterer agency. The police however refused to divulge the names of the companies involved which have been issued summons.

The tragedy claimed the lives of 75 people on board while 186 we're rescued by the Navy. The Mumbai police have so far identified and handed over 53 bodies of the crew members and are taking DNA samples from the unidentified bodies. The DNA samples will be matched with their family members for identification. Two of the eight bodies which washed ashore at Gujarat coast have been identified and handed over to their kin.

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