Cyclone Tauktae: At least 26 dead and dozens missing at sea after storm sinks barge off Mumbai
At least 26 people have died and dozens are missing after a cyclone sank a barge off the western coast of India.
The number of people unaccounted for is between 49 and 65, according to various reports.
The Indian Navy declared Barge P305 sunk off Mumbai after it was caught up in high wind speeds of 95-111mph, caused by Cyclone Tauktae – the most powerful storm to hit the region in more than two decades.
Some estimates put the top wind speed at up to 130mph when it came ashore on Monday, leaving more than 50 people dead in Gujarat and Maharashtra states.
A survivor from Barge P305, Amit Kumar Kushwaha, told ANI news agency: “I jumped into the sea with a life jacket after our vessel began sinking, I was in the water for almost 11 hours and was rescued by the navy.”
Another man, speaking through tears, said: “I got injured when the barge was hit by wave after wave and was thrown into the sea. I am alive only because the navy came otherwise all of us would have died.”
Captain Sachin Sequeira, the commanding officer of the Indian warship INS Kochi said: “We got distress signals from Barge P305, which is approximately 35-40 miles off the Mumbai coast.
“Our ship sailed under very difficult circumstances.”
He said 184 people had been recovered, with aircrafts, helicopters, and six naval ships continuing the operation to search for those still missing.
“We are still looking out for personnel in the areas. We should all be optimistic,” he said.
The conditions have improved, largely it has calmed down. Hopefully the worst is behind us.”
Cyclone Tauktae barrelled through India’s western coast and there has been severe damage to power lines, homes, roads and buildings in the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Most of its journey was off the coast and when it hit land in the state of Gujarat, it had weakened from an “extremely severe” to a “severe” cyclone.
The Indian Metrological Department said the storm further weakened into a depression on Wednesday morning and is now centred over south Rajasthan.
In what is one of the biggest offshore rescue operations by the Indian coastguards and navy, 637 persons have been brought to safety.
Beyond the barge, an oil rig, four vessels and freight ships have become caught up in the storm since Monday.
The Indian navy has said 101 workers of the Sagar Bhushan oil rig, 137 men of Gal Constructor, and 202 men on Barge SS03 that was adrift and was towed in, are all safe.
Speaking about the challenging conditions at sea, Captain Sachin Sequeira said: “We had waves about nine to 10 metres (29-32ft) in height.
“Those sort of waves, for even a ship like mine, will almost cover my entire ship.
“In maritime terms we call this sea state eight or nine, which are gale force winds. These are very high speed winds which make manoeuvring a ship and keeping it up, steady and safe very difficult and challenging.
“These are difficult conditions for us to operate as it endangers not only those out at sea but also my crew.”
Questions are being raised why the men were not brought back before Cyclone Tauktae struck the region.
An official release by Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) for whom most of the men worked, said: “ONGC is taking all possible measures in coordination with the Offshore Defence Advisory Group and the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre to ensure safety of personnel and vessels.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is visiting Gujrat and Diu assess the damage caused by the cyclone.
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