Arabian Sea barge case: NHRC notice to Petroleum Ministry, ONGC, Coast Guard

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New Delhi, May 23 (PTI) The NHRC on Sunday issued notices to the Petroleum Ministry, ONGC chairman, Indian Coast Guard and the director general of Shipping in the wake of a barge tragedy in the Arabian Sea in which scores of workers lost their lives.

The National Human Rights Commission, in a statement, said, 'Allegedly, the loss of precious lives could have been avoided, if all the involved agencies had followed standard safety regulations and protocols, both before and during the build-up of the cyclone.' 'The NHRC has taken suo motu cognisance of a news article, carried on May 22, raising serious concerns on the rights of various seafarers in India that have resurfaced in the wake of the reported worst offshore disaster in the country leading to the death of 49 workers when their barge, P-305, sank in the Arabian sea on May 17, even as searches were on for others,' it said.

The commission has observed that it appears that the director general of Shipping, ONGC authorities and the Coast Guard were 'aware that in the wake of Cyclone Tauktae, there was a potential danger to the lives of the workers onboard a dumb barge, but it seems that no effective steps were taken to bring the victims to safer places and they were left helpless. This is a serious case of violation of the right to life of the victims'.

Accordingly, it has issued notices to the secretary of Union Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, the chairman of Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, the director general of Indian Coast Guard and the director general of Shipping, Mumbai, seeking a detailed report within six weeks.

The reports must include accurate data regarding persons onboard at the time of the incident, steps taken after receiving an alert regarding the cyclone, persons missing, persons rescued till date with their health status as well as the status of the rescue operation as on date, the statement said.

The NHRC said it would also like to know about the status of the inquiry, reportedly ordered in the matter, the action taken against the responsible public servants and the relief granted to the next of kin of the deceased and to the injured workers.

The commission is of the opinion that the 'safety of every seafarer must be valued, and the institutional distortions and procedural dissonances, if any, and as mentioned in the news article, must be set right to avoid such tragedies in future'.

A total 49 people are feared killed while 186 of those on the barge (also referred to as Papa-305) have been rescued by the Navy in very adverse weather conditions.

It is also stated that many workers are yet to be accounted for and a massive rescue operation is underway, according to the statement.

The Accommodation Work Barges (AWB) are reportedly the equivalent of rudimentary dormitories at sea for contract workers and their living conditions are spartan in a flat-bottom, floating structures called barge with cramped built-up accommodation. When these have no self-propulsion, these are deemed to be “dumb” as was the case with the ill-fated barge, the statement said.

'It is stated that given the high operational costs in maintaining a workforce on an oil rig or platform at sea, cost-cutting and penny-pinching is endemic to the off-shore hydrocarbon sector and this particular installation is also not an exception in this regard,' it added. PTI KND SNE SNE

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