Tragedy at sea: Barge's chief engineer blames captain, client

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Mumbai, May 20 (PTI) Rahman Shaikh, chief engineer of the P-305 barge that sank off the Mumbai coast during cyclone Tauktae, alleged on Thursday that its captain did not take the cyclone warning seriously, leading to the death of at least 49 crew members.

He also questioned the vessel's seaworthiness.

P-305 which housed personnel engaged in maintenance work of an offshore oil drilling platform of state-run oil and gas major ONGC, sank on Monday evening.

Recovering from injuries, Shaikh said in a video shot by his brother Aalam that Balwinder Singh, the captain, insisted that wind speeds will not be very high and the cyclonic storm will last only for an hour.

'The captain said the wind will not go over 40 knots (about 75 kmph). It will start at 11 and end at 12. The entire incident happened because of the captain and client,' the 48- year-old Rahman Shaikh said in the video, shared by Aalam.

Balwinder Singh is among the 26 people still missing.

He is said to have jumped into the waters without a life jacket.

P-305, an accommodation barge for personnel engaged in maintenance work on Heera oil drilling platform of ONGC, de-anchored and drifted in cyclonic winds of over 100 kmph on Monday and hit an unmanned oil rig.

The collision ripped a hole in the barge with 261 persons onboard, resulting in water seeping in.

Many of the survivors said they jumped into the sea with life jackets on. Rahman Shaikh and many others had to spend more than 24 hours in water before being rescued by the Indian Navy.

Citing his brother, Aalam Shaikh said the crew tried to pump out the water but the hole was too big.

'When it was out of control, the team went up, where they found that the captain was missing,' Aalam Shaikh said.

They then distributed life jackets and jumped out, he said, adding that Rahman and a team of six people were the last to leave the barge.

Rahman is employed by Ocean Divers, parent firm of Durmast which was appointed by Afcons Infrastructure.

In a statement, Afcons, a Shapoorji Pallonji Group company, said it had chartered the vessel from Durmast and added that chartering is not the same as sub-contracting.

'....the responsibility for the marine side of the operations, namely safe vessel operation, navigation and vessel management, comes under the scope of work of the vessel owners,' the Afcons statement said.

It also said that the weather deteriorated rapidly and reached levels far worse than the forecast of winds of 40 knots per hour.

Aalam Shaikh, who is in the ship management services business, alleged that the barge owners had bought the vessel from a Malaysian operator as scrap, and deployed it in the Arabian Sea as support vessel for oil exploration platforms.

He questioned the barge's fitness to withstand an impact of the kind it suffered after hitting the oil rig.

The company should give compensations to family members of the deceased personnel and both the company and vessel owners should be black-listed, he demanded. PTI AA DC KRK KRK

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