Mumbai, May 20
Afcons Infrastructure, whose chartered barge P305 with 261 personnel at the Bombay High offshore oilfield was wrecked by cyclonic storm Tauktae earlier this week, on Thursday said the weather deteriorated rapidly and reached levels far worse than forecasts.
As many as 37 personnel on board the barge have been killed and 38 are still missing.
Afcons Infrastructure, the engineering arm of Shapoorji Pallonji Group, also claimed it has followed all standard practices.
Afcons, on behalf of its three consortium partners—Triune Energy Services, Nauvata Engineering and Halani International—in a statement said “weather forecasts received on May 14 predicted that sustained wind speed of maximum 40 knots (classified as a ‘tropical storm’ by them) is likely to occur at our specific work location late May 16-early 17”.
“On May 14 itself, all our vessels were advised to secure their respective work locations and move to safety at the earliest. Accordingly, all vessels and barges, including Pappa 305 (P305), began moving back on May 14-15,” it said.
While all other barges moved to Mumbai port/Mumbai outer anchorage/ anchorage close to Revandanda, the master of P305 chose to move 200 miles away from the HT platform where the barge was working, and to remain at that location, deciding this as a safe location since the maximum wind speed predicted was only 40 knots and his location was 120 nautical miles away from the eye of the tropical storm.
“Unfortunately, the weather deteriorated rapidly from the evening of May 16, reaching levels far worse than predicted on May 17. This sudden deterioration left no time at all for any further action to be taken by the P305 vessel master,” the statement said.
As of Thursday morning, the Navy and Coast Guard have retrieved 37 bodies, and said as many as 38 of the 261 personnel from the sunken barge are still to be traced four days into the tragedy.
All these men were deployed at the Heera platform of the national energy major ONGC on the Bombay High—around 70 km southwest of Mumbai—its largest asset in the country.
Despite seeing bleak chance of the missing people being rescued, the Navy on Thursday morning launched a fresh aerial search and rescue mission, deploying helicopters to scour the high waters.
Afcons also said according to the normal marine protocol, as well as the specific charter agreement for P305, matters concerning vessel safety is the responsibility of the owner/barge master.
Pointing out that the published weather reports, including cyclone alerts, were for the general region of operations and not particularly relevant for any exact area of operation, it said the standard practise of offshore contractors is to obtain weather forecast for the work location from well-known weather forecasters twice a day.
Marine and construction operations are planned based on the above location-specific forecasts and the same practice was followed by Afcons, it said.
The company also clarified that it has chartered the wrecked vessel P305 from Durmast and that charting is different from subcontracting.
Durmast is the owner and the responsibility for marine operations rests with the owner and his marine crew stationed on the vessel, it said.
Afcons, as charterer, has deployed its construction workmen and supervisors, who stay on the barge and carry out construction/ revamp work on the platform.
Accordingly, under the international standard vessel chartering terms, which was adopted for P305, the responsibility for marine side of operations—safe vessel operation, navigation and vessel management—come under the scope of work of Durmast, it said.
Afcons also said of the 261 people on the wrecked P305, 13 were its employees, but did not say whether all of them have been rescued or not.
The other five vessels/barges were SS-3 with a total of 202 people on board, Gal Constructor (137 people), Trinity Nissie (268), Ocean 303 had 170 personnel on board and Falcon Warrior had 203. The first four vessels had eight Afcons employees each, while the last one had six staffers.
All these personnel are safe and back home/in hospitals after being rescued by the Navy and Coast Guard.