New Delhi: A massive naval and Coast Guard search operation involving seven ships, multiple choppers and a P8I aircraft is underway to locate 53 missing offshore personnel after an accommodation barge capsized at the Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC)’s Mumbai High asset offshore India’s west coast following Cyclone Tauktae.
While the ONGC had initially said Monday that 273 personnel were on board contractor Afcons’ barge P-305, the number was later revised to 261.
According to a Navy statement, 186 personnel have been rescued so far while 22 bodies have been recovered. Search is on for the remaining 53.
The sea continues to be extremely choppy with winds blowing at 25-30 knots (around 35-55 kmph), posing a challenge to the ships and aircraft involved in search and rescue (SAR) operations.
The Navy has deployed five ships — INS Tej, Betwa, Beas, Kolkata and Kochi — besides several helicopters and its anti-submarine warfare P8I aircraft into the operations.
The Coast Guard has also deployed two of its ships to help the Navy.
On Monday, the anchors of the Afcons’ barge gave way and it started drifting, eventually sinking in the night. The contractor had deployed the barge at the ONGC Mumbai High fields offshore the west coast, which was battered by the cyclone.
Other ongoing SAR operations
In a separate oil industry SAR operation, a Sea King helicopter of the Navy was launched to rescue the crew of Merchant Vessel (MV) GAL Constructor, which ran aground North of Mumbai. The chopper rescued 35 crew members of GAL Constructor.
SAR efforts are currently in progress off the coast of Gujarat for three vessels — Support Station 3, Great Ship Aditi and Drill Ship Sagar Bhushan — which are 15-20 nautical miles south-east off Gujarat coast (Pipavav).
INS Talwar is the ‘on-scene coordinator’ for coordination of these efforts.
Coast Guard ops
According to Coast Guard officers, when the cyclone intensified during its northward movement close to Mumbai Monday, reports started coming in of vessels in distress, especially from the Mumbai High oil fields.
On receipt of the distress messages, ships and aircraft were immediately pressed into action and deployed or diverted for various operations.
They had received input late Monday that Gal Constructor with 137 personnel onboard was adrift 47 miles north of Mumbai in view of non-availability of power.
On request by the Coast Guard, emergency towing vessel Water Lily was directed for SAR assistance. However, Gal Constructor reported ingress of water in underwater compartments and ran aground. ICGS Samrat was then tasked for SAR and two helicopters from Daman were launched. All personnel were safely evacuated.