Twenty-two offshore workers are confirmed dead as the search and rescue operation continues after a barge sank when Cyclone Tauktae hit Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC)’s Mumbai High fields offshore western India.

The Indian Navy and coast guard mounted the operation after the cyclone struck on Monday, although hopes are fading for the 51 personnel still missing from contractor Afcons’ Papaa 305 barge.

Rescue efforts have been supported by ONGC as well as joint venture partners Afcons and Halani-Tes-Nauvata, which were revamping unmanned platforms at Mumbai High when the storm hit.

The navy said that 188 of the 261 people on board the barge had been rescued by the middle of this week.


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Afcons’ barges P 305, Support Station 3 and Gal Constructor, as well as ONGC’s drillship Sagar Bhushan, bore the brunt of Tauktae. Wind speeds reached 180 kilometres per hour, with waves up to eight metres high.

Barge capsized

The P 305 was serving as an accommodation unit when it capsized late on 17 May, several hours after a distress message indicated water ingress.

Family members took to social media to question why vessels had not been moved away from the approaching cyclone.

The Indian Express daily newspaper reported that a senior coast guard official had notified ONGC that all vessels should return to harbour.

“We had a weather report about the cyclone, but our superiors failed to do anything about it,” Sandeep Singh, a survivor of the P 305, was quoted as saying.

Frustration has also been mounting among relatives over the time it took for ONGC and Afcons to set up telephone helplines, and the lack of readily accessible information about workers who had been rescued.

“Dear Minister, not a single tweet yet on the ONGC missing personnel due to cyclone Tauktae and efforts govt is taking for rescue. It's your own ministry for God's sake. Be accountable,” read one Twitter post directed at Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

Afcons said the chartered barge, owned and operated by Durmast Enterprises, had safety equipment, including life jackets and life rafts, for everyone on board.

“An intensive search and rescue operation including helicopter search operations is ongoing to locate and rescue the missing personnel. All the crew of the other vessels affected by the cyclone are safe and accounted for," said Afcons, part of India’s Shapoorji Pallonji Group.

More than 630 offshore workers and crew were rescued from ONGC’s Mumbai High asset.

Crew safe: the offshore barge GAL Constructor seen from a Chetak helicopter Photo: INDIAN COAST GUARD/AFP/SCANPIX

All 137 workers from the Gal Constructor, which ran aground near Palghar, were brought safely ashore.

All 101 people from the Sagar Bhushan are also safe. The drillship lost its eight anchors and drifted northwards, narrowly missing rigs and facilities on the Mumbai High North field.

‘Extreme emergency’

However, an ONGC control room update at 7pm local time on Monday seen by Upstream said that the jack-up rig Vivekanand-2 might have been in the “line of fire” of the drifting drillship, classifying this an “extreme emergency”.

The Sagar Bhushan was subsequently brought under control and was being towed to shore this week by offshore support vessels chartered by ONGC.

The 196 personnel on board the Support Station 3 are reportedly safe, although this barge was still adrift on Wednesday.

The barge is clear of Mumbai High installations, but ONGC had expressed concern on Monday evening that it and oil tanker Desh Bhakt had lost control and were heading towards the Vivekanand-2.

Rescue operations are also reportedly under way for the anchor-handling tug supply vessel Greatship Aditi, although this could not be confirmed independently. This vessel was en route to support ONGC’s operations at the Panna field, according to vessel data service VesselsValue.

Cyclone Tauktae affected other rigs working for ONGC in the area, including the Valiant Driller, on the Mumbai North field, which lost its mast and upper substructure in strong winds, and the Sagar Kiran on the Mumbai South field, which suffered a complete power blackout.

“Due to the severe cyclonic storm, unfortunate incidences have occurred involving three construction barges of Afcons working on a project of ONGC in Western Offshore fields in the Arabian Sea and one drilling rig of ONGC deployed for exploration purpose,” ONGC said in a statement on Tuesday.

The operator had not issued an official update as of Wednesday afternoon.

Afcons had not responded to a request for comment by the time Upstream went to press.

The cyclone was downgraded to a depression as the death toll in India's western states climbed to at least 26 by mid-week.