Forty-Nine dead personnel on board barge P305 that went adrift in Cyclone Tauktae and sank in the Arabian Sea four days ago could have been saved if as many as 14 life rafts had not been punctured and the Captain had taken the cyclone warnings seriously, according to the Chief Engineer Rahman Shaikh, who was one of the 187 men rescued.
Shaikh told The Indian Express “We received the cyclone warning a week before it hit. Many other vessels in the vicinity left. I told the Captain, Balwinder Singh, that we must also leave for the harbour. But he told me that winds were not expected to be over 40 kmph and the cyclone would cross Mumbai in one or two hours. But in reality the wind speed was more than 100 kmph. Five of our anchors broke. They couldn’t withstand the cyclone,” he said.
While the chief engineer was among the lucky ones who was saved and admitted to Apollo Hospital in Tardeo with a wound on his knee, Captain Balwinder Singh is among the 38 people who are still missing.
Shaikh also revealed that most of the life rafts on the barge they could get their hands on had punctures in them. “We had a big hole. Water started coming in. We tried using life rafts on the port side but only two could be launched and the rest 14 were punctured. Since the winds were blowing at high speed and the waves were high and rough, no one had the courage to check on the starboard side where there were 16 more life rafts,” he said.
The men, who had worn their life jackets, were asked to jump into the sea in groups holding floating rings, so that they would be visible to rescuers and could be picked up, he added. “The barge finally sank at 5 pm on Monday.”
Indian Naval ships INS Kochi on Wednesday morning and INS Kolkata late Wednesday night brought the bodies of these “Brave Nature’s Victims” to Mumbai, a Navy spokesperson told PTI.
Chances of finding more survivors are looking bleak, another official said.
“The Navy’s Search and Rescue (SAR) operations entered the fourth day today. Naval ships and aircraft are presently undertaking SAR of the missing crew members of Accommodation Barge P-305, which sank on Monday 35 miles off Mumbai,” a Navy spokesperson said.