Mumbai: After leading a massive search operation, INS Kochi returned to Mumbai on Wednesday morning with 125 survivors of the barge mishap, who looked visibly jaded and worn out after the trauma of being adrift in turbulent waters buffeted by high velocity winds and zero visibility.
In a never-ending saga, the operation also saw 26 bodies being retrieved, even as search and rescue operations continued for the 49 others ‘lost’ at sea. ‘‘The operations are still on and we have several naval units on site,” said Captain Sachin Sequeira, commanding officer of INS Kochi. He personally oversaw the operation to rescue 186 of the 261 crew members of the ONGC barge P-305 that sank on Monday night after its moorings broke.
"The operations were challenging but our work is to be prepared for contingencies. We have been able to save another 300 lives at sea. Two other vessels were in distress, they were about to abandon when we assured them support," added Sequeira.
Commodore Manoj Jha, too, said it was the most challenging rescue operation they have carried out and the priority was to save lives. “We used IR cameras, searchlights, helicopters and radar for the search operation.”
“It has been a joint operation with the Coast Guard and the ONGC also playing an important role,” said Commodore Jha.
The first-person accounts of survivors were agonising with many of them tossing and turning in the choppy waters for 16 to 18 hours; some of them blamed the ship management for not taking an informed decision despite knowing about the Cyclone.
Sunil Kumar, who was working as a helper on Barge P305, blamed the ship management company for the incident. “They should have taken an early decision. If they had, we would not be in this state now,” said Sunil who recounted how they battled the waves, swell and wind for 14 hours after he jumped into the water at 6 pm on Monday.
“It is God's grace that I am alive. I will never forget this in day in my life. I lost all my belongings in the water and because of that my family knew nothing about me,” said Sunil.
Indrajeet Sharma, a resident of Nerul who was working as a senior engineer at barge P305, said “It was horrific. I did not think I would survive. I swam in the water for seven to eight hours with the determination to stay alive and was rescued by the INS Kochi.”
Shailender Mishra, one of the survivors, said, “I was scared. I jumped into the water and other colleagues followed suit, only to find bodies being tossed around ln the water.”
The Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has set up a high-level committee to enquire into the sequence of events leading to the stranding of ONGC vessels in cyclone Taukte. The committee will comprise Amitabh Kumar, Director General of Shipping, S.C.L. Das, Director General of Hydrocarbons, and Nazli Jafri Shayin, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Defence.
The committee will also look into whether the warnings issued by Meteorological Department and other statutory authorities were adequately considered and acted upon. Also, whether the Standard Operating Procedures for securing the vessels and dealing with disaster management were adequately followed. Lapses and gaps in the systems leading to the stranding and drifting of the vessels will be probed and a report will be submitted within a month.