India's Ministry of Petroleum & Natural Gas has launched a high-level investigation into the barge sinking offshore India that is now confirmed to have claimed at least 22 lives with more than 50 other personnel still unaccounted for.
Disaster struck on Monday when Cyclone Tauktee barrelled across the Arabian Sea and slammed into Oil & Natural Gas Corporation’s Mumbai High asset. Three Afcons’ barges, including Papaa 305 – which subsequently capsized and sank – and an ONGC drillship bore the brunt of the worst cyclone to hit the region in more than 20 years.
The official probe was launched as anger and frustration grows among the families of those killed or still missing and some survivors with criticism being levelled at ONGC and Afcons as to why vessels weren’t moved away from the cyclone and for the companies' subsequent handling of the unfolding tragedy.
Maharashtra Minister Nawab Malik publicly slammed ONGC, saying: “All workers should’ve been evacuated.
"Punish those responsible"
“Punish those responsible.” Malik told India’s English language television channel Times Now.
“Everyone on board barge P 305 could have been saved had many of the life rafts not had punctures and the captain taken the cyclone warnings seriously," the vessel's chief engineer Rahman Shaikh – one of the 187 men rescued from the stricken vessel – told The Indian Express.
“We received the cyclone warning a week before it hit,” said Shaikh, adding that many other vessels in the vicinity of impending storm had moved.
Twenty-two offshore workers are now confirmed dead as the search and rescue operation led by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard continues. However, hopes are rapidly fading for the 51 personnel still missing from contractor Afcons’ P 305 barge.
A committee comprising Director General of Hydrocarbons SCL Das; Amitabh Kumar, Director General of Shipping; and Nazli Jafri Shayin, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Defence has been formed to investigate the fatal incident.
The committee, which can appoint other panel members, is tasked with enquiring into the sequence of events leading up to the drifting and stranding of the vessels and rigs involved.
The panel will also look at whether the warnings issued by Meteorological Department and other statutory authorities were adequately heeded and acted upon.
Another area of focus will be to ascertain whether “the Standard Operating Procedures for securing the vessels and dealing with disaster management were adequately followed”.
The report, which will include recommendations to prevent another such incident, is due for submission within a month.
The Mumbai Police will also conduct a separate investigation into the tragic accident, reported The Press Trust of India.
The P 305, which was acting as an accommodation barge, had 261 personnel on board when the cyclone hit. Of these, 186 persons have been rescued although some have been hospitalised because of the injuries sustained.
“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," Afcons said.
"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.”
All the offshore workers on Afcons’ two other barges - Support Station 3 and Gal Constructor - as well as ONGC’s drillship Sagar Bhushan were rescued.
ONGC has yet to issue a formal statement via its website since Tuesday.