Indian Navy, Coast Guard rescue 317 from barges in Arabian Sea (2nd Ld)

In one of the biggest search and rescue operations in the Arabian Sea, the Indian Navy (IN) and the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) rescued 314 people stranded and struggling for survival on two barges that were engulfed by Cyclone Tauktae, officials said here on Tuesday.

All the 137 people marooned on the Barge GAL Constructor have been successfully rescued by the IN and ICG teams after daring helicopter and ship operations braving extreme weather conditions, battling tall waves, heavy rains and strong winds of over 100 km/hr, near the Colaba Point.

Similarly, another 180 persons out of 273 on board Barge Papaa-305 were picked up with the help of INS Kochi, INS Kolkata, OSV Ahilya, OSV Ocean Energy and Sea King helicopters, even as the vessel sank in the sea on Tuesday morning.

Efforts are on to rescue the other people still trapped in the waters as the intensity of Cyclone Tauktae seemed to be on the wane after it made a landfall around midnight.

The Oil & Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC) said earlier on Tuesday that one of its oil exploration drilling rigs and three construction barges of Afcons Infrastructure Ltd. (AIL) were involved in the unfortunate incidents during the Cyclone Tauktae onslaught.

The vessels are ONGC Drill Ship ‘Sagar Bhushan’ and AIL’s Barge Gal Constructor which ran aground near Colaba Point, Barge Papaa-305 which has sunk and Barge Support Station-3, which is drifting northwest in the sea with two ONGC offshore vessels sent to provide assistance.

According to IN and ICG, these incidents involved a total of 707 persons of which 314 have been rescued and further operations are continuing since the past 24 hours.

Though the ONGC could not provide the total number of staff in the Bombay High Fields, around 175 km in the high seas, the company said that all its offshore installations and oil platforms were safe.

Meanwhile, Afcons said in a statement that together with its consortium partner Halani-Tes-Nauvata, it has been working with ONGC for the revamp of its unmanned offshore platforms in the Arabian Sea.

The extremely severe cyclonic storm Tauktae, reported to be the most severe storm in the last five decades, caused damage to several vessels that were deployed, including an accommodation barge, Papaa 305, Afcons said.

According to the company, the chartered barge P305 along with its marine crew was owned and operated by M/s Durmast Enterprises Limited.

“P305 had a full complement of safety equipment including life jackets and life rafts for all persons on board. We believe all personnel were safely evacuated before the vessel sank. Despite the extreme sea conditions, 182 members on board P305 have been rescued so far by the Indian Navy and Coast Guard. An intensive search and rescue operation including helicopter search operations are ongoing to locate and rescue the missing personnel. All the crew of the other vessels affected by the Cyclone are safe and accounted for,” Afcons said in a late night statement.

“The Afcons-led consortium is working closely with ONGC, the Petroleum Ministry, Indian Navy, Coast Guard, and DG (Shipping) to coordinate the rescue efforts. We shall spare no effort to ensure that the missing personnel who were aboard P305 are quickly located and rescued, and our thoughts and prayers are with their families in this very difficult time,” it added.