Desperate search for missing 90

The Indian Navy mounted a massive air and sea rescue mission yesterday (18May21) for oil workers and crew whose barge sank in heavy seas following a powerful cyclone.

Around 182 of those on board the barge P305, which sank off the coast of Mumbai, were rescued from the huge waves, the navy says. However, this leaves about 90 personnel missing according to some reports.

On Monday, the crew sent an SOS that the ship had lost control. Naval ships were sent to the area and on Tuesday, as the barge started sinking, many of the crew were rescued.

Navy spokesman Vivek Madhwal says waves reached 20 to 25 feet amid poor visibility. Three more barges were adrift near the Gujarat coast but rescue operations were underway. Madhwal says five ships backed by surveillance aircraft were scouring the site of the sinking of the barge P305 in the Bombay High oilfield, where the country’s biggest offshore oil rigs are located.

Other vessels are in difficulty, but latest unconfirmed reports suggest that accommodation barge SS-3 with 196 personnel on board, and drilling ship Sagar Bhushan with 101 people, remain adrift but are not sinking.

Both barges were working for Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), the largest crude oil and natural gas company in India. According to NBC, ONGC confirmed that the vessels were in distress and rescue operations were ongoing.

Cyclone Tauktae is said to be the most powerful storm to hit the west coast in two decades, killing at least 29 people.

“This is one of the most challenging search and rescue operations I have seen in the last four decades,” Murlidhar Sadashiv Pawar, deputy chief of naval staff, told Reuters.

P305 had a full complement of safety equipment including life jackets and life rafts for all persons on board. We believe all personnel safely evacuated before the vessel sank,’ Afcons Infrastructure Limited, a construction and engineering company based in Mumbai deploying the barges, said in a statement late on Tuesday.

The storm caused damage to several of the vessels deployed, the company said, adding that every effort was being made to rescue the missing personnel.

The oilfields are around 70 km (45 miles) southwest of Mumbai.