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Staying afloat for 12 hours while battling gigantic waves, strong winds: Rescued workmen from barge recall horror in sea

One of the survivors said the incident was similar to the scenes from the movie 'Titanic' that depicted the sinking of the RMS Titanic ship in 1912 in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Published: 19th May 2021 09:23 PM  |   Last Updated: 19th May 2021 10:52 PM   |  A+A-

People rescued by the Indian navy from a barge that sank in the Arabian sea walk out from Indian naval ship INS Kochi in Mumbai. (Photo | AP)

By PTI

MUMBAI: Battling tidal waves as high as 15 metres and strong winds while trying to stay afloat in the cyclone-hit rough Arabian Sea for almost 12 hours, workmen rescued from a sinking barge near here narrated their horrifying experience in their quest for survival.

One of the survivors said the incident was similar to the scenes from the movie 'Titanic' that depicted the sinking of the RMS Titanic ship in 1912 in the North Atlantic Ocean, while some others said that they had almost lost the hope of making it alive back home.

At least 22 personnel on board accommodation barge P305 that went adrift in Cyclone Tauktae fury before sinking in the Arabia Sea off Mumbai coast are dead and 65 still missing, a Navy official said on Wednesday.

The Navy said its personnel have so far rescued 186 of the 273 people who were onboard barge P305.

"People might have watched in 'Titanic' movie the occupants jumping out of the sinking ship to save themselves and dead bodies floating, but we saw all this unfold before our eyes," Vishwajeet Bandgar (28), who worked on the barge as a welder, said after his rescue by the Navy.

ALSO READ | Cyclone Tauktae: Police to probe why barge P-305 didn't move away despite warning; Mumbai greenery sees massive destruction

"It was worse than the Titanic, as dead bodies of our colleagues, who worked with us, could be seen floating in the water," he said.

They had jumped into the water before us and we saw their life boat was also broken, said Bandgar, a native of Mangalwedha town in Maharashtra's Solapur district.

Thanking the Navy for rescuing him and several of his colleagues, Bandgar said the Navy is like God to them.

"We were not sure if we could be rescued until help came. During that horrific situation, we kept supporting each other by saying that we will be alive and there is no need to worry," he said.

"I was in the water holding on with the life jacket for more than 14 hours. There were gusty winds and waves of more than 15 metres," he said.

Talking to reporters here, workman Manoj Gite said, "It was a horrific situation on the barge. I had not thought I would survive. But, I swam in the waters for seven to eight hours with the determination to stay alive and was rescued by the Navy."

Gite (19), a resident of Kolhapur, said as the barge started sinking, all workmen got worried and he along with others wore a life jacket and jumped into the waters.

The workman, who had joined as a helper on the barge only last month, said said he lost all his documents and mobile phone in the cyclonic storm.

Asked if he would return to the rig again, Gite said he is not keen to go back and is contented to be alive after the nightmarish experience.

Another workman, who was injured in the incident, thanked the Navy for saving his life.

"It is because of the Navy that we all are alive and safe today, otherwise we don't what would have happened to us," the workman said while fighting back his tears.

One of the officials on the barge had claimed the cyclone was "not huge", another workman said.

"The official is now missing. We tried to search for him, but in vain," he said.

Another rescued workman said as their barge started sinking, he jumped into the waters in the middle of the night and tried to stay afloat.

"I swam for about 12 hours before the Navy team rescued me," he said.

Another personnel, who works as a fitter at the rig, said the sea waves were higher than the height of the barge and there were high speed winds blowing around.

"Before the Navy ship arrived, we were not sure what was going to happen. As we saw the naval ship coming towards us for rescue, our confidence went up. I was sure they will save me, hence I jumped into the waters and started swimming," he said.

ALSO READ | Cyclone Tauktae hits Gujarat farmers hard; mango, banana plantations worst hit 

When asked whether the personnel on the barge had any idea about the impending cyclone, Bandgar claimed that they had enough information about it and except P305, all other barges had already started moving towards the shore before the cyclone.

"But the company did not inform about it," he said.

Bandgar said before they got know about his rescue, his family members kept crying till he called them to inform that he was safe, he said, adding his kin were coming to Mumbai to see him.

Meanwhile, the oil ministry on Wednesday constituted a high-level committee to enquire into the sequence of events leading to the stranding of three vessels of a contractor of ONGC in cyclone 'Tauktae'.

Three barges of Afcons, a contractor working on ONGC fields off the west coast with more than 600 people on board, were stranded in offshore areas during the severe cyclone.

"The stranding, drifting and subsequent events have led to loss of several lives," a ministry statement said without giving details.

A committee comprising Amitabh Kumar, Director General of Shipping; SCL Das, Director General of Hydrocarbons, and Nazli Jafri Shayin, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Defence has been constituted to enquire into the incidents.

The panel may co-opt any other member, and take assistance of any person it deems necessary.

"The committee shall submit its report within one month," it said.

It has been asked to "inquire into the sequence of events leading to the stranding and drifting of these vessels, and subsequent events.?"

"Whether the warnings issued by Meteorological Department and other statutory authorities were adequately considered and acted upon" will also be looked into by the panel, the statement said.

The panel will also enquire if "the Standard Operating Procedures for securing the vessels and dealing with disaster management were adequately followed," it said adding lapses and gaps in the systems leading to the stranding and drifting of the vessels will also looked into.

ALSO READ | 'I thought I wouldn't survive': Rescued workmen from barge recall cyclone horror in sea 

The Navy said its personnel, battling extreme weather, have so far rescued 186 of the 261 people who were onboard barge P305 and also two from tugboat Varaprada.

So far 26 bodies have been recovered and 49 people who were on the barge P305 which sank on Monday are missing.

TPM Modi announces Rs 1,000 crore for immediate relief in cyclone-hit Gujarat; NCP, Shiv Sena hits out at Centrehe Navy had so far maintained that there were 273 persons on board the barge but an official on Wednesday evening said that the company which operated it has informed that there were 261 personnel on board the ill-fated barge.

"The Navy's Search and Rescue (SAR) operations off Mumbai and Gujarat entered its third 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," the spokesperson said.

Warships INS Kochi, INS Kolkata, INS Beas, INS Betwa, INS Teg, P8I maritime surveillance aircraft, Chetak, ALH & Seaking helicopters are involved in the SAR operations.

"INS Kochi which entered Mumbai harbour on Wednesday to disembark 125 survivors and mortal remains of four crew members, was immediately sailed out in the evening again to continue the search effort.

"INS Kolkata is scheduled to enter Mumbai harbour during the night to disembark the remaining survivors rescued from barge P-305 and Tug 'Varapradha' as well as the mortal remains of 18 crew members recovered during the operation," he said.

On completion of its operations off Gujarat coast, INS Talwar has also been diverted to conjoin the other three naval ships searching for the missing crew of barge P-305, off Mumbai.

INS Talwar was the 'OnScene Coordinator' off Gujarat coast and assisted Support Station 3 (SS-3) and Drill Ship Sagar Bhushan, which are now being safely towed back to Mumbai by ONGC support vessels, he said.

Food and water to the 300 odd crew members of these vessels was also provided by naval helicopters from Mumbai, earlier in the day," he said.

"As of now, 186 crew members of Accommodation barge P-305, and two from Tug 'Varapradha' have been rescued by Navy ships and aircraft.

A total of 26 mortal remains of the crew of Barge P305 have been recovered so far," he said.

"Search and rescue operations are still. However, the chances of finding more survivors are getting bleaker by the hour," an official said.

All personnel on board two other barges and an oil rig rendered adrift hours before the "very severe cyclonic storm" made landfall on the Gujarat coast are also safe, a Navy spokesperson said.

After reaching Mumbai, the rescuees recounted how they battled tidal waves as high as 10 metres and strong winds while trying to stay afloat in the cyclone-hit rough Arabian Sea for two days.

Workmen rescued from barge P305 narrated their horrifying experience in their quest for survival.

Some said they had almost lost the hope of making it alive back home.

"It was a horrific situation on the barge. I had not thought I would survive. But, I swam in the waters for seven to eight hours with the determination to stay alive and was rescued by the Navy," workman Manoj Gite told reporters here.

Gite (19), a resident of Kolhapur, said as the barge started sinking, all workmen got worried and he along with others wore a life jacket and jumped into the waters.

Asked if he would return to the rig again, Gite said he is not keen to go back and is contented to be alive after the nightmarish experience.

Another workman, who was injured in the incident, thanked the Indian Navy for saving his life.

"It is because of the Navy that we all are alive and safe today, otherwise we don't what would have happened to us," the workman said while fighting back his tears.

ALSO READ | PM Modi announces Rs 1,000 crore for immediate relief in cyclone-hit Gujarat; NCP, Shiv Sena hits out at Centre

All the 137 personnel on barge GAL Constructor were rescued on Tuesday by the Navy and Coast Guard.

The 196 personnel on barge SS-3 and 101 personnel on board oil rig Sagar Bhushan are safe, the official said.

Three barges and an oil rig with 695 personnel on board went adrift on Monday.

These included barge P305 with 261 persons, cargo barge GAL Constructor with 137 personnel on board, accommodation barge SS-3 with 196 personnel on board and the Sagar Bhushan oil rig with 101 personnel on board, the official said.

Deputy Chief of Naval Staff Vice Admiral Murlidhar Sadashiv Pawar said the ongoing SAR is among the most challenging search and rescue operations in the last four decades.

Navy ships were deployed on Monday after receipt of a request for assistance for barge 'P305' adrift off Heera oil fields in Bombay high area with 273 personnel on board.

The oil fields are around 70 km southwest of Mumbai.



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