Adrift on out of control barge, crew faced harrowing time as cyclone raged

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(Eds: correcting name of barge in intro, adding inputs) Mumbai, May 18 (PTI) Crew members of the cargo barge GAL Constructor spent harrowing 72 hours in the Arabian sea before the vessel ran aground near Alibag, south of Mumbai, in the middle of cylconic storm Tauktae on Monday evening.

Luckily, all of them were rescued by the Indian Navy.

However, many on another barge, P-305 which was deployed to service ONGC's offshore operations closer to Mumbai were missing after they had to jump into choppy waters.

By Tuesday evening, 180 of its 261 crew members had been rescued, the Navy said.

Avinash Aadke, who was rescued from Gal Constructor, said the vessel was 'out of control' for three days and help was being sought from the Coast Guard. But as the barge was anchored close to Alibag, the help was first redirected to other vessels.

'As our barge got damaged, they (the Navy) set aside everything else and came to our rescue,' he said, speaking from a naval facility after landing in Mumbai.

Those on accommodation barge P-305, deployed in the Heera Platform of Bombay High, about 35 nautical miles from Mumbai, faced an even difficult situation as it developed a hole.

Undergoing treatment at a naval hospital in Mumbai, Satish Narwad, a crew member, said he spent the whole night in the sea while the cyclone passed overhead on its way to Gujarat.

Narwad, a native of Haryana, said P-305 de-anchored in in the wee hours of Monday morning and started drifting.

It hit some object, resulting in a hole. About 3 PM on Monday, the safety officer asked all the crew to put on life jackets as water was gushing in.

As the vessel sank, they had no option but to jump.

'I was in the water throughout the night,' said an injured Narwad.

'The Navy saved us in the morning. I do not know how they located us,' he said.

He also said there was an order by the government ahead of cyclone, asking the barges to move away from the offshore oil drilling platforms in the Arabian Sea.

But his barge continued to be there because it had a large crew, he said.

Vice Admiral Murlidhar Sadashiv Pawar said the barge sank at 7 pm on Monday in a very choppy sea.

The subsequent search and rescue was one of the most challenging operations undertaken by the Navy in four decades, he said.

'The main challenge is the weather itself. This is an extremely severe cyclonic storm with winds of 80-90 knots, wave heights of 6-8 metres, continuous rains, heavy clouding and almost zero visibility,' Admiral Pawar said. PTI DC AA KRK KRK