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61 Still Missing at Sea, Questions on ONGC's Cyclone SOPs; Probe Ordered

A man thanks rescuers with folded hands after being brought safely to the shore. (Image: Indian Navy)

A man thanks rescuers with folded hands after being brought safely to the shore. (Image: Indian Navy)

On Tuesday, the Directorate General of Shipping also termed the entire incident 'unusual and said it will conduct a probe.

As the Indian Navy continues to scour the Arabian Sea for 61 missing people from the sunken P-305 barge off Bombay High in the aftermath of Cyclone Tauktae storming through the Mumbai coast, the oil ministry on Wednesday constituted a high-level committee to enquire into the sequence of events.

Apart from P-305, two other vessels of ONGC had sent out distress calls after being caught in bad weather. All three barges belonging to Afcons, a contractor working on ONGC fields off the west coast with more than 600 people on board, were left stranded in offshore areas during the cyclonic storm.

“The stranding, drifting and subsequent events have led to the loss of several lives," a ministry statement said even as sources said that 26 bodies have been pulled out of the sea so far. A committee comprising Amitabh Kumar, Director General of Shipping; SCL Das, Director General of Hydrocarbons, and Nazli Jafri Shayin, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Defence has been constituted to enquire into the incidents.

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The panel may co-opt any other member, and take the assistance of any person it deems necessary. “The committee shall submit its report within one month," it said.

It has been asked to “inquire into the sequence of events leading to the stranding and drifting of these vessels, and subsequent events.?" “Whether the warnings issued by Meteorological Department and other statutory authorities were adequately considered and acted upon" will also be looked into by the panel, the statement said. The panel will also enquire if “the Standard Operating Procedures for securing the vessels and dealing with disaster management were adequately followed," it said adding lapses and gaps in the systems leading to the stranding and drifting of the vessels will also be looked at.

‘Did ONGC ignore warnings?’

​Maharashtra minister and NCP leader Nawab Malik also raised the same question. Despite timely warnings, and when coastal authorities evacuated people on land to safer locations, why didn’t ONGC act appropriately? he asked in a series of tweets.

‘Unusual’

On Tuesday, the Directorate General of Shipping also termed the entire incident ‘unusual and said it will conduct a thorough probe into the conditions and reasons behind the two barges going adrift.

“These are residential barges. So a high number of people can live on them. But it is unusual that despite a cyclonic warning through several sources, such a large number of people continued to stay on board," an official had told CNN-News18.

(With inputs from PTI)

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