Rest of Asia

India: Sunk barge's captain ignored warnings

Web report/Mumbai
Filed on May 20, 2021
Rescued crew members from the sunken offshore barge P305 disembark the INS Kochi naval ship after arriving in Mumbai. Photo: AFP

Barge drifted and hit an oil rig, killing dozens on board

Though many other vessels in the Arabian Sea left for the harbour after being warned of a cyclone a week in advance, the captain of P305, the barge that drifted and hit an oil rig, killing at least two-dozen on board, ignored the warnings from his men, according to the chief engineer.

“I told the Captain Balwinder Singh that we must also leave for the harbour,” Rahman Shaikh, the chief engineer, told Indian Express from his hospital bed in Mumbai.

“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 the wind speed was more than 100 kmph. Five of our anchors broke as they could not withstand the cyclone.”

The barge had 261 men on board when the storm hit the area. Fifty of them are still missing. According to Shaikh, he sent an SOS to the designated tugboat for P305 – barges are usually towed by tugboats – but the master failed to turn up to take them to Mumbai.

The barge then hit an unmanned oil rig even before the Indian Navy ships in the area could spot it. “We had a big hole. Water started coming in. We tried using life rafts on the port (left) side but only two could be launched and the rest 14 were punctured.” Added Shaikh. “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.”

The men jumped into the sea before the barge began to sink. But many panicked and died after being in the water for long. “I saw death coming but was saved by the grace of Allah,” said Shaikh.

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