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Questions remain over why ONGC personnel ignored Tauktae warning

By Jyoti Mukul
May 20, 2021 17:12 IST
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It looks unlikely that a proper plan was in place or else the deaths could have been averted, reports Jyoti Mukul. 

IMAGE: INS Kochi arrives at Mumbai Naval Dockyard with the rescued crew members of barge P305, in Mumbai, May 19, 2021. Photograph: Shashank Parade/PTI Photo

The Union government has ordered an inquiry into the incident at Oil and Natural Gas Corporation's (ONGC's) Western Offshore site, off the Mumbai shore that led to at least 26 confirmed deaths.


Fifty-five persons went missing and scores of others were stranded.

Though a committee with Amitabh Kumar, director general of shipping, SCL Das, directorate general of hydrocarbons and Nazil Jafri Shayin, joint secretary in the ministry of defence would look into the lapses that led to the incident, the question being raised is why so many persons were still at sea despite the forecast of Cyclone Tauktae.

The incident involved three construction barges of Afcons working on an ONGC project in the Arabian Sea and one drilling rig owned by the PSU major deployed for exploration and production purposes.

An ONGC spokesperson said the barges and the drilling rig were moved to safer locations as was the normal protocol, following the Indian meteorological department's warning of cyclone but there was a change in both the severity and the path of cyclone.

It, however, looks unlikely that a proper plan had been placed or else the emergency could have been averted.

This is not the first time that an incident at ONGC's offshore field has led to demand of fixing responsibility.

A major fire accident occurred on Mumbai High North (MHN) processing platform at 4.05 pm on July 27, 2005, leading to death of 11 and rescue of 362 persons.

The accident took place when ONGC's multi-purpose support vessel Samudra Suraksha under Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) operation, was engaged in a medical evacuation operation.

The MSV lost control, drifted, and collided with the platform causing a major fire which also engulfed the MSV.

The committee of officials formed on Wednesday would inquire into the sequence of events leading to the stranding and drifting of the vessels and whether the warnings issued by the meteorological department and other statutory authorities were adequately considered and acted upon.

The committee would also look into whether the standard operating producers for securing the vessels and dealing with the disaster were followed.

It would also be recommending measures for preventing such actions in future.

According to the Indian Navy, 186 people have been rescued from Barge P305.

INS Kochi returned to Mumbai with survivors while naval tugs towed ONGC’s Sagar Bhushan rig and support station with 38 persons onboard

The cyclone hit Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai in the early hours of May 17 where ONGC's major production installations and drilling rigs are located. The wind speed rose to nearly150-180 km/hr with six to eight metre high waves.

"There was both an increase in the wind speed and the low pressure which increased the severity of the cyclone," said an ONGC spokesperson. He said the vessels usually move to safer locations and do not go to the coast.

An Offshore Defence Advisory Group and Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre coordinated the rescue operations.

The anchors of Barge 'Papaa–305' gave away due the cyclone, and the vessel started drifting.

For the rescue operation, INS Kochi and INS Kolkata -- two ships of Indian Navy -- and one Tug Boat of Afcons, one Offshore Supply vessel of ONGC, Coast Guard vessel ICG Samarth had to be pressed into service.

Three more ONGC OSVs and two Multipurpose Support Vessels were mobilised.

Anchors of another barge Support Station-3 also gave away and it started drifting North-West.

Barge Gal Constructor started drifting at Colaba Point with water ingress in the engine room.

Coast Guard vessel ICG Samrat and Mumbai Port Trust vessel Water Lily came for its rescue and support.

Barges are flat boats that usually carry equipment or other material for carrying out various activities including drilling operations.

They belonged to Afcons. A spokesperson of Afcons did not respond to queries.

ONGC's Sagar Bhushan deployed for exploration in the western offshore also lost its anchors and started drifting north.

"Weather forecast systems are available with the vessels. There were around 20-22 barges in that area and they all were asked to move to safer locations but the cyclone moved 70-km eastwards which became unsafe," said an ONGC official, adding that their own platform closes down.

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Jyoti Mukul in New Delhi
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