Barge P-305, which sank in the Arabian Sea in May killing 86 onboard, was advised by ONGC to move to safety before severe cyclone Tauktae struck but its captain decided to stay nearby, junior oil minister Rameswar Teli informed the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. On May 16, Cyclone Tauktae - a storm with the intensity of a category 3 hurricane - tore apart the Barge Papaa 305's anchors and slammed it into an offshore platform, taking down 261 people on board. Many of them were rescued.
"Total 86 personnel lost their lives due to the sinking of vessels deployed for ONGC projects during cyclone Tauktae," Minister of State for Petroleum and Natural Gas Rameswar Teli said in a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha. A cyclone warning was issued on May 13 and most vessels were moved to safety.
"ONGC had advised all the vessels including Barge P-305 to move out of the field to a safe location," he said. "The Barge also confirmed it." He said the "Barge Master decided to position the vessel at nearby location" keeping in view "safety of vessel and persons on board." But "the anchors of the vessel gave way leading to stranding and subsequent submerging of the vessel," he added. The ministry has ordered an investigation into the accident and the sequence of the events leading to the stranding of vessels.
The panel includes Amitabh Kumar, Director General of Shipping, SCL Das, Director General, Directorate General of Hydrocarbons and Nazli Jafri Shayin, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Defence. In addition, another two-member committee consisting of Director General-Shipping and Additional Secretary(Exploration) Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas has been constituted to look into reforms required in terms and conditions for hiring vessels and amendments, if required, he added.
The barge was hired by Afcons Infrastructure, an engineering company owned by billionaire Pallonji Mistry's Shapoorji Pallonji Group. Afcons was the main contractor for the jobs of fixing decays and painting rusted pipes and metals in order to protect the structures from the corrosive onslaught of the sea. Teli said ONGC is discussing with the IMD for providing weather forecasts specific to its fields in offshore to avoid recurrence of such incidents.
Also, a single-point authority, Marine Cell, has been created for vessel information, management and safety related to the marine operation. SOP (Standard Operating Procedure), ERP (Emergency Response Plan) and DMP (Disaster Management Plan) are being revised to suitably address severe cyclone emergency response, he said adding health, safety and environment (HSE) practices are being benchmarked through a consultant of international repute.