Navy teams from INS Makar, INS Tarasa carry out underwater search for bodies

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Mumbai, May 24 (PTI) Navy ships INS Makar and INS Tarasa on Monday carried out diving operations 35 nautical miles from Mumbai coast to locate the bodies of missing personnel on board tugboat Varaprada, a week after it went adrift in the Arabian Sea during Cyclone Tauktae fury, an official said.

'The Specialist Clearance Diving Team of the Western Naval Command conducted the diving operations over the wreck of Tug Varaprada today. The diving was carried out from INS Makar and INS Tarasa at a depth of 32 metres in nil visibility conditions at a distance of 35 nautical miles from Mumbai harbour,' a Navy spokesperson said.

Specialised surface supply diving equipment, underwater search equipment, hand held Sonar (sound navigation and ranging, a technique that uses sound propagation to navigate, communicate with or detect objects on or under the surface of water) and underwater lights were used during the dive operations, he said.

'No mortal remains were located underwater,' the spokesperson said.

A Navy official earlier in the day said all the 274 personnel who were on board barge P305 that sank and tugboat Varaprada that went adrift during the cyclone fury have been accounted for with the recovery of 16 bodies along Maharashtra and Gujarat coasts.

'A total of 274 crew were reported missing on May 17 (261 from Barge P305 and 13 from Tug Varaprada). While 186 survivors from P305 and two from Varaprada were picked up at sea, 70 mortal remains (bodies) were recovered at sea by ships of Indian Navy and Coast Guard,' he said.

'Eight bodies have been recovered along the coast in Raigad district of Maharashtra and another eight bodies washed ashore the Gujarat coast near Valsad,' he said.

Thus all the 274 crew (261 on board P305 and 13 on board Varaprada) have been accounted for, he said. The final confirmation will be pending till the identification of all the bodies recovered is completed, he added.

Rescue personnel had recovered 70 bodies, believed to be of P305 personnel, in the sea till Sunday. With 16 bodies washing ashore, the death toll in the tragedy at sea could rise to 86, another official said. As of now, the official death toll stands at 70 pending identification of the bodies washed ashore.

INS Makar, a Navy survey catamaran equipped with side scan sonars, located the wreckage of P305 on Saturday in the vicinity of where it sank on May 17. The Navy had also deployed specialised diving teams to boost the search and rescue (SAR) operations. The SAR operations haven't been call off yet, the spokesperson told PTI.

The relatives of the victims will try to identify the deceased with the help of the belongings found on their bodies, like clothes, identity cards, batch number or birth marks, previous injury marks or tattoos. In case the bodies are not identified, DNA tests would be conducted, another official said.

All the 440 persons on barges Gal Constructor and Support Station 3 (SS-3) and drillship Sagar Bhushan were brought ashore to safety recently. PTI VT VT VT

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