26 die in Arabian Sea, 49 still missing, Centre orders probe (Ld)

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In a gruesome tragedy, at least 26 persons on board the drifting Barge Papaa-305 met a watery end in the stormy Arabian Sea in the aftermath of the Cyclone Tauktae while another 49 are still missing, as the Centre ordered a probe into the incident, officials said here on Wednesday.

Their bodies have been brought to Mumbai by Indian Navy ships which had gone on dare-devil rescue missions since the past 48 hours.

The Union Ministry for Petroleum & Natural Gas late this evening ordered setting up a high-level committee to probe the sequence of events leading to the stranding of ONGC vessels in the Cyclone Tauktae, etc.The Western Naval Command confirmed the deaths of the 26 persons even as efforts are underway to trace another 49 who are untraceable missing in the still choppy seas near the Bombay High Fields, around 175 kms off Mumbai.

INS Kochi has brought the bodies to the Mumbai harbour, along with many of the others rescued.

As Cyclone Tauktae ravaged the Maharashtra coastal areas and whirled towards Gujarat, the ill-fated barge in the offshore development area of Bombay High Field had sunk late on Monday night.

A total of 261 persons were on board Pappa-305, an accommodation barge.

The Afcons Infrastructure Ltd (AIL), which had contracted the sunken barge, expressed regrets over the fatalities in the high seas and said its immediate focus is to locate and rescue the remaining missing personnel on priority.

“The safety and wellbeing of our people are our topmost priority, and we’re doing everything possible to address this unprecedented crisis. We know nothing can ever compensate for the loss of a loved one, but we will extend our fullest support including financial assistance to the bereaved families in this hour of their need,” the AIL added.

The Indian Navy has so far saved around 190 persons from that Barge, besides many more from other stranded or drifting vessels in one of the biggest search and rescue operations mounted under extreme weather conditions.

Rescue operations are still continuing in the Arabian Sea as the weather conditions improved since this morning.

–IANS

qn/ash