According to Chief Engineer Rahman Shaikh, one of the 187 men rescued from the barge P305, everyone on board could have been saved if many of the life rafts had not been punctured and the Captain had taken the cyclone warnings seriously.
“We got the cyclone alert a week before it hit,” Shaikh, 48, who was admitted to Apollo Hospital in Tardeo on Wednesday evening with a wound on his knee, said. Many other ships in the area had already sailed. I informed Captain Balwinder Singh that we needed to get to the harbour as well. However, it was assumed that winds would not exceed 40 kmph and that the cyclone would pass through Mumbai in one or two hours but in reality, the wind speed was more than 100 kmph. Five anchors broke.
When the storm struck, the P305 had 261 men on board. As bodies were being recovered on Wednesday, 50 people from the barge remained missing. The Captain, as well as the company, made mistakes, according to the Chief Engineer.
The barge, like most vessels in that group, was engineless and acted as lodging for men working on ONGC platforms and rigs. Normally, barges must be towed by a tug boat. Shaikh said that he sent an SOS to Nove, the designated tugboat for P305, but its master did not show up.
He said they could see naval ships in the area, but the barge drifted and collided with an unmanned oil rig before either of them could reach P305. “We had a large hole,” says the narrator. Water began to pour in. On the port (left) side, we attempted to use life rafts, but only two could be deployed, and the remaining 14 were punctured. No one had the confidence to venture out because the winds were howling and the waves were high and rough.