Cyclone: Navy, Coast Guard rescue 314 people from two barges

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(Eds: Updates info) Mumbai, May 18 (PTI) Battling extreme weather, the Indian Navy and Coast Guard have so far rescued 314 people on board two barges that went adrift in the Arabian Sea near Mumbai hours before Cyclone Tauktae made landfall on the Gujarat coast, an official said on Tuesday.

Three barges and an oil rig with 611 personnel on board had gone adrift on Monday. These included accommodation barge P305 with 273 persons, cargo barge GAL Constructor with 137 personnel on board, accommodation barge SS-3 with 196 personnel on board and the Sagar Bhushan oil rig with 101 personnel on board, a Navy official said.

While all the 137 people on board the cargo barge GAL Constructor have been rescued, 177 of the 273 onboard P305 have been rescued so far, the official said.

'Two Coast Guard Chetak helicopters operating from the Coast Guard Air station in Daman rescued personnel on board the GAL Constructor. One more Chetak helicopter was also pressed into service for the SAR operations,' he said.

There is no word yet on the progress of rescue operations for the accommodation barge SS-3 and the Sagar Bhushan oil rig.

Navy ships were deployed on Monday after receipt of a request for assistance for barge 'P305' adrift off Heera oil fields in Bombay high area with 273 personnel on board. The oil fields are around 70 km southwest of Mumbai.

Sixty persons on board the P305 barge were rescued till 11 pm and the remaining till Tuesday afternoon, the official said, adding a Navy helicopter brought three rescuees to INS Shikra this morning.

INS Shikra, formerly known as INS Kunjali, is a naval air station located at Colaba in south Mumbai.

State-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) had on Monday said barge P305 with 261 personnel deployed for offshore drilling got de-anchored and began drifting because of the cyclonic storm Tauktae.

A barge is a long flat-bottomed boat either under its power or towed by another. An accommodation barge is of shallow draft (vessel whose keel is not far below the waterline) and is used to accommodate personnel on projects where shore accommodation is not available.

Offshore accommodation barges are fully autonomous and used mainly in the oil and gas industries.

State-run Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) on Monday said the barges P305 and GAL Contractor were hired by them and personnel are of the contractor Afcons, which is owned by the Shapporji Pallonji Group of Cyrus Mistry.

The barges were deployed at the Heera platform, the largest of the ONGC rigs on the Bombay High, the largest oil and gas assets of the national energy major, and were anchored to safety ahead of the cyclone but got drifted and de-anchored due to the gusty winds that have made the Arabian Sea violent.

'We have two barges deployed at the ONGC rigs. Barge No. P305 has personnel onboard and 137 people on the other.

Unfortunately, both were de-anchored by the powerful cyclonic winds. However, with the help of the Navy, both the barges have been steadied and all the 410 personnel are reported safe as of 1530 hours,' an Afcons spokesman had said on Monday.

The Navy on Tuesday morning deployed the P-8I long- range, multimission maritime patrol aircraft to join the search and rescue operations, the Navy official said.

GAL Constructor with 137 persons on board ran aground about 48 nautical miles north of Colaba Point, he said. An Emergency Towing Vessel 'Water Lily', two support vessels and CGS Samrat were involved in rendering assistance and evacuation of crew, he added.

'Navy ship INS Talwar has proceeded to assist oil rig Sagar Bhushan and accommodation barge SS-3. Both are adrift about 50 nautical miles south-east of Pipavav port, an all- weather port located 152 nautical miles from Nhava Sheva port near Mumbai,' the official said. PTI VT VT VT

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