After a week of the dreadful P305 barge and Gal Constructor barge sinking in the Cyclone Tauktae off the Bombay coast, details of the mishap have started to emerge and all fingers are being pointed towards the barge’s captain.
After the chief engineer of the P305 barge implicated the captain of not aiding the meteorological department’s alert and headed back to the shore in time, the Varaprada tugboat chief engineer has now said that the Gal Constructor barge incident too was a man-made disaster.
The tugboat was one of the 2 boats that were assisting the barge on that fateful day when 11 of its 13 member crew died.
Varaprada’s chief engineer, Francis K Simon revealed that there was no chance of rescue as the tugboat sank within an hour of the distress call issued by the barge.
Francis revealed that the captain of the barge had thought that JNPT was a safe spot for anchorage and hence the tug which was assisting the Gal Constructor and AFCONS barge had been anchored there on 16th May.
As the night drew in, the wind had become more forceful resulting in the vessels breaking their anchors and go adrift in different directions.
While the barge ran aground and all its crew was rescued, the tugboat sank 20 km from shore with 11 people dead.
The crew of the tugboat had begun to head back to shore but a water ingress into the vessel’s engine room around 10 am dashed all such hopes.
The crew had to pump out the water manually as the water pump stopped working. The engine was the bottom-most part of the ship. The crew had been on the first deck while officers on the second deck.
The Chief Engineer has alleged that early in the afternoon he had informed Captain Nagendra Kumar that the engine room had been filled with water and asked him to call in the coast guard and the navy but the captain didn’t issue the distress call until 5 pm.
Simon had there been no delay in issuing the distress call to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre precious lives could have been saved.
Meanwhile, the Navy has said that they didn’t receive any such distress call from the Varaprada crew and only rescued 2 of its crew by chance. INS Kolkata had spotted the 2 hopeless seafarers on a raft and rescued them. They happened to be from the Varaprada tugboat.
The chief engineer has further alleged that had the captain made an attempt to enter JNPT on the night of 16th May and not anchored at sea, this wouldn’t have happened.
Simon has given all these testaments in an official written statement given to the Mumbai Yellow Gate Police Station. He has also revealed the details to the Mercantile Marine Department officials. In his statement he had revealed that the condition of the tug wasn’t suitable for the sea. The tugboat was more than 34 years old.
In the written statement Simon has said that the vessel had anchored outside the JNPT and remained at a distance of 1km from the barge to support the vessel. They could have gone inside the port area if the captain had sought the Port Authorities permission which he didn’t.
The barge too didn’t get the permission because of some reason. He categorically stated that the whole incident could have been avoided if permission was given.
He believes that instead of taking a chance and underestimating the cyclone the captain could have informed the authorities about the tug’s unseaworthiness.
He has also alleged that the tugboat’s engine room wasn’t equipped to prevent any water ingress which is an essential safety feature for issuing licenses to tugs like these. The company named Glory who owned the tug had flouted all safety measures.
Naresh Birwadkar, the General Secretary Forward Seamen’s Union of India has echoed that same sentiments when he called for strict actions against the perpetrators and also urged the ONGC and the DG Shipping to ensure that SOLAS and MLC 2006 guidelines of the IMO were implemented.
Reference : Timeofindia