Cyclone: Rescued workmen from barge recall horror in sea

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(Eds: Adding quotes) Mumbai, May 19 (PTI) Battling tidal waves as high as 15 metres and strong winds while trying to stay afloat in the cyclone-hit rough Arabian Sea for almost 12 hours, workmen rescued from a sinking barge near here narrated their horrifying experience in their quest for survival.

One of the survivors said the incident was similar to the scenes from the movie 'Titanic' that depicted the sinking of the RMS Titanic ship in 1912 in the North Atlantic Ocean, while some others said that they had almost lost the hope of making it alive back home.

At least 22 personnel on board accommodation barge P305 that went adrift in Cyclone Tauktae fury before sinking in the Arabia Sea off Mumbai coast are dead and 65 still missing, a Navy official said on Wednesday.

The Navy said its personnel have so far rescued 186 of the 273 people who were onboard barge P305.

'People might have watched in 'Titanic' movie the occupants jumping out of the sinking ship to save themselves and dead bodies floating, but we saw all this unfold before our eyes,' Vishwajeet Bandgar (28), who worked on the barge as a welder, said after his rescue by the Navy.

'It was worse than the Titanic, as dead bodies of our colleagues, who worked with us, could be seen floating in the water,' he said.

They had jumped into the water before us and we saw their life boat was also broken, said Bandgar, a native of Mangalwedha town in Maharashtra's Solapur district.

Thanking the Navy for rescuing him and several of his colleagues, Bandgar said the Navy is like God to them.

'We were not sure if we could be rescued until help came. During that horrific situation, we kept supporting each other by saying that we will be alive and there is no need to worry,' he said.

'I was in the water holding on with the life jacket for more than 14 hours. There were gusty winds and waves of more than 15 metres...,' he said.

Talking to reporters here, workman Manoj Gite said, 'It was a horrific situation on the barge. I had not thought I would survive. But, I swam in the waters for seven to eight hours with the determination to stay alive and was rescued by the Navy.' Gite (19), a resident of Kolhapur, said as the barge started sinking, all workmen got worried and he along with others wore a life jacket and jumped into the waters.

The workman, who had joined as a helper on the barge only last month, said said he lost all his documents and mobile phone in the cyclonic storm.

Asked if he would return to the rig again, Gite said he is not keen to go back and is contented to be alive after the nightmarish experience.

Another workman, who was injured in the incident, thanked the Navy for saving his life.

'It is because of the Navy that we all are alive and safe today, otherwise we don't what would have happened to us,' the workman said while fighting back his tears.

One of the officials on the barge had claimed the cyclone was 'not huge', another workman said.

'The official is now missing. We tried to search for him, but in vain,' he said.

Another rescued workman said as their barge started sinking, he jumped into the waters in the middle of the night and tried to stay afloat.

'I swam for about 12 hours before the Navy team rescued me,' he said.

Another personnel, who works as a fitter at the rig, said the sea waves were higher than the height of the barge and there were high speed winds blowing around.

'Before the Navy ship arrived, we were not sure what was going to happen. As we saw the naval ship coming towards us for rescue, our confidence went up. I was sure they will save me, hence I jumped into the waters and started swimming,' he said.

When asked whether the personnel on the barge had any idea about the impending cyclone, Bandgar claimed that they had enough information about it and except P305, all other barges had already started moving towards the shore before the cyclone.

'But the company did not inform about it,' he said.

Bandgar said before they got know about his rescue, his family members kept crying till he called them to inform that he was safe, he said, adding his kin were coming to Mumbai to see him. PTI DC GK NP NP

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