Mumbai: Two barges with 410 people, deployed for offshore drilling in Bombay High, are adrift after their moorings broke in the intensity of Cyclone Tauktae. Barge ‘P305’, belonging to the state-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), with 273 people on board off Heera oil fields in Bombay High was the first to send out an SOS call which was responded to immediately by the Indian Navy which deployed INS Kochi for a search and rescue operation. A Navy spokesperson said that another naval vessel INS Talwar has been kept on standby in case the need arises for it to join the operations.
Later it received another SOS call from Barge ‘GAL Constructor’ with 137 people on board about 8 nautical miles from Mumbai following which INS Kolkata was sent for search and rescue. Both the barges deployed for offshore drilling in Bombay High were de-anchored and started drifting primarily due to the existing rough conditions at sea, added the spokesperson.
A Navy spokesperson said that both the naval vessels were in the vicinity of the respective barges but the sea condition was very rough with high swell and winds making the rescue operation very difficult. ONGC in a release said that all the personnel on board its barge have been accounted for and are safe, and that the barge has also been “steadied”.
But sources in the Indian Navy said that the sea state was currently between 7 and 8 making any kind of rescue operation not feasible. Also, ‘P305’, which is an accommodation barge and has no engine to power it, hit one the oil rigs in the vicinity and the barge currently is taking in water, added Navy sources.
“Normally, the rescue operation would have entailed launching lifeboats which would have transferred people onboard the barges. But with the current sea state and with barge tossing and turning, its not possible to launch lifeboats to rescue people from ‘P305’,” said a Navy officer, requesting anonymity. “It’s going to be a long night,” added the officer.
The condition of Barge ‘GAL Constructor’ with 137 people on board is also similar with it drifting towards the shore, added Navy sources. INS Kolkata is currently in the vicinity of the barge, but the naval vessel will not be able to follow the barge beyond a point as it risks the naval vessel being grounded, added Navy sources.
Earlier in the day, a naval helicopter rescued four crew members of an Indian flagged tug ‘Coromondel Supporter XI' that was adrift north-west of Mangalore in Karnataka. The vessel’s machinery compartments was flooded which cut off its power supply and was without propulsion. The rescued crew members were transferred to a nearby Coast Guard Vessel.
“Several other ships have been readied for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) tasking in the wake of Cyclone Tauktae that has wreaked havoc along the West coast of India," a Navy spokesperson said. The Indian Coast Guards also swung into action and rescued 15 crew members of a fishing boat named Milad off Goa coast. All the crew has been confirmed to be safe and the boat is being towed ashore to safety.