Twenty-six bodies have been recovered off the coast of India’s Mumbai city where a barge with 261 people on board sank on Monday during a severe cyclone. The death toll is expected to rise as rescue operations continue. At least 53 people are still missing.
A navy warship returned to the city’s harbour on Wednesday with some of the 186 survivors rescued so far. Thirty-five people have also been rescued from another of the three other barges stranded due to cyclone Tauktae. The cyclone weakened after it made landfall on Monday, but at least 19 people are confirmed as having died on land in the storm.
The barge was working on a project for India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC). It was carrying personnel deployed for offshore drilling. When the storm struck, the barge’s anchors gave way and it began drifting.
“We’re still looking out for people in the area. We should be optimistic. Right now the conditions have improved. Hopefully, the worst is behind us,” Captain Sachin Sequeira, commanding officer of the INS Kochi warship, told ANI news agency.
“The barge was sinking, so I had to jump into the sea. I was in the sea for 11 hours. After that [the] navy rescued us,” a survivor told ANI. After receiving distress calls from the barge also called Papaa-305 (P305), the navy’s ship sailed under difficult weather conditions.
“[The] storm was just passing west of Mumbai [city] as we arrived on scene we took charge of the situation,” Captain Sequeira said. “An intensive search and rescue operation including helicopter search operations are ongoing to locate and rescue the missing personnel,” Afcons, the infrastructure development company which chartered the barge, said in a statement.
The navy had mounted a massive air and sea rescue mission for the missing oil workers, which has been hampered by huge waves. “There are waves of 20 to 25 feet (six to 7.6m), the winds are high and the visibility is low,” said navy spokesman Vivek Madhwal.
A navy spokesman said it had dispatched three warships to save those aboard the three stranded commercial barges. Two of the barges are off the coast of Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra state, while the third is off the coast of the western state of Gujarat.
Initially classified as “extremely severe”, Tauktae made landfall in Gujarat state late on Monday with wind speeds of up to 160km/h (100mph). Winds ravaged coastal areas in Gujarat, uprooting trees and electricity poles, electricity supply was cut in some districts as a precautionary measure.
About 200,000 people were evacuated across several states as the cyclone approached, bringing with it heavy rains and gusty winds. Tauktae is the strongest cyclone to strike the coast of Gujarat since 1998.
The storm has hit the region amid a devastating second wave of Covid-19 that has overwhelmed Indian hospitals.