At least 80 offshore workers remain missing two days after disaster struck when Cyclone Tauktae slammed into Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC)’s Mumbai High fields offshore India’s west coast.
Search and rescue operations continued overnight Tuesday and were ramped up again at daylight to look for the unaccounted-for personnel from Afcons’ barge Papaa 305 (P 305), which capsized and sank after being hit by Tauktae on Monday.
"We believe all personnel [were] safely evacuated before the vessel sank. Despite the extreme sea conditions, 182 members on board P 305 [have] been rescued so far by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard," said Afcons.
The full force of the worst cyclone to hit the region in more than 20 years battered ONGC’s Mumbai High asset, where Afcons had deployed three barges to support its revamping work on some of the operator’s unmanned platforms.
The P 305 was acting as an accommodation unit for 261 people to support this offshore work that was being performed by Afcons and joint venture partner Halani-Tes-Nauvata.
The barge had sent out a distress call on Monday afternoon after taking on water.
Barge 'had full complement of safety equipment'
In a statement given to local media, Afcons said the chartered barge and its crew was owned and operated by Durmast Enterprises. The barge had a full complement of safety equipment including life jackets and life rafts for all persons on board, it said.
“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.
The contractor, part of India’s Shapoorji Pallonji Group, is working closely with Halani-Tes-Nauvata, ONGC, the Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas, Indian Navy, Coast Guard and the Directorate General of Shipping to coordinate the rescue efforts.
"We shall spare no effort to ensure that that the missing personnel who were aboard P 305 are quickly located and rescued, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families in this very difficult time," Afcons said.
However, family members of those still missing in this tragedy and their rescued colleagues have taken to social media to vent their frustration on two counts.
Firstly, there is a perceived lack of information being proactively given by ONGC and Afcons.
Although telephone helplines have now been set up, there is no known publicly available list of the offshore workers that have been rescued from the P 305, Afcons’ barges Support Station 3 and Gal Constructor, and ONGC’s drillship Sangar Bhushan.
These four units bore the brunt of damage from Cyclone Tauktae when it barreled through Mumbai High on Monday.
The second issue is the unanswered question of why state-owned operator ONGC did not take steps to move some vessels and rigs out of the path of the devastating storm or evacuate non-emergency personnel.
“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 by The Indian Express.
More than 630 offshore workers and crew have now been rescued from ONGC’s Mumbai High asset.
All 137 workers from the Gal Constructor, which ran aground near Palghar, have been rescued and are now safely onshore.
Drillship crew safe
Meanwhile, all 101 people from the Sagar Bhushan are also safe. The drillship lost all its eight anchors and drifted northwards narrowly missing rigs and facilities on the Mumbai High North field.
The Sagar Bhushan has since been brought under control and it is understood to be on tow to shore by offshore support vessels chartered by ONGC.
The 196 personnel on board the Support Station 3 are all reportedly safe although this barge is still adrift.
Rescue operations are also reportedly ongoing for the anchor-handling tug supply vessel Greatship Aditi, although this could not be independently confirmed. This vessel was en route to support ONGC’s operations at the Panna field, according to vessel data service VesselsValue.
Search and rescue operations are expected to continue until at least Saturday, according to local media.
Afcons has yet to respond to Upstream’s request for comment while ONGC has not posted any update on its website since Tuesday's initial statement.
At least 26 people have lost their lives to Cyclone Tauktae, which on Tuesday was downgraded to a cyclonic storm and subsequently to a depression.