Mumbai Police on Friday registered a FIR – which includes charges of “causing death by negligence” – against the captain of the barge that was carrying 261 people when it sank 35 nautical miles off the city’s coast Monday, as Cyclone Tauktae battered India’s west coast.
51 bodies have been recovered so far and 27 people are still missing five days after the incident, with the Navy leading rescue efforts that many say are now unlikely to find any more survivors.
According to news agency PTI, the captain is one of those still missing.
Early on Friday, the police said that on the complaint of a P305 engineer, an offence was registered under Sections 304(II) (an act done with knowledge that it is likely to cause death), 338 (causing grievous hurt by an act endangering life or personal safety of others) and 34 (common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.
The Yellow Gate police said they have booked the captain of the barge for allegedly ignoring the warnings related to Cyclone Tauktae.
Mumbai Police Spokesperson DCP S Chaitanya said, “The captain of the barge acted negligently on the warnings issued related to Cyclone Tautkee and that allegedly led to the mishap which has killed 49 so far, due to which we have registered an offence. We have so far mentioned the barge’s captain and others in the FIR, and on the basis of the findings of the investigation, we will book more officials.”
The investigators will also seek necessary inquiry reports from the departments conducting the probe.
The statements of more than 50 survivors have been recorded so far.
Barge P305 was a vessel doing work for the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) off the coast of Mumbai. It had broken free of its anchor shortly after midnight on May 16 due to high-speed winds and a choppy sea. Rescue efforts have been underway since May 17 to trace the missing personnel. At least 188 have been rescued so far.
On Thursday, ONGC and its contractor Alfcons Infrastructure, that was doing building work for the state-owned company and had chartered P305, laid the blame on the Master or Captain of the barge.
In a statement, Afcons said the Master of P305, Balwinder Singh, decided to move the barge only 200 metres away from the platform where it was operating even as other vessels moved closer to safe harbours based on its advice. The predicted maximum wind speeds of 40 knots (about 75 km/hr) and the barge’s location being about 120 nautical miles (222 km) from the anticipated eye of the storm led the Master to believe they were safe, the company said. Singh reportedly understood the cyclone to be a “tropical storm”.
Apart from P305, 11 crew members of tugboat Varaprada are also missing.
A massive search operation is underway to locate the missing personnel. Two ships of the Indian Navy, INS Kochi and INS Kolkata, three coast guard vessels and 14 other vessels owned by ONGC and chartered vessels are carrying out the rescue mission. Search and rescue operations are likely to continue for at least two more days.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas announced a high-level inquiry into “lapses and gaps” in the system. It said it would probe the sequence of events leading to the ONGC support vessels left stranded by the cyclone, and see whether warnings and SOPs were followed.