A cyclone barreling through India’s west coast sank a barge hired by state-run explorer Oil & Natural Gas Corp. prompting a massive operation to rescue 96 people missing from the vessel.
“Long-range maritime surveillance aircraft were assisting the rescue effort but bad weather was hampering operations,” Indian Navy Spokesman Vivek Madhwal said, adding that about 177 people, who were on the barge, were rescued in a night-long operation.
Another warship of the Indian Navy sailed out on Tuesday to rescue hundreds of people from two other ONGC-operated barges, which were adrift in high seas, Madhwal said.
Indian Navy ships and vessels of Indian Coast Guard and ONGC have joined the rescue operations, the company said in a statement. The cyclone was equivalent of a category 3 hurricane, with waves as high as eight meters. ONGC has major production installations and drilling rigs in the area.
The company said: “Cyclone Tauktae hit Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai in the early hours of May 17, 2021 where ONGC’s major production installations and drilling rigs are located. The wind speed rose to nearly150-180 Km/hr with 6 to 8 meters high waves.
“Due to the severe cyclonic storm, unfortunate incidences have occurred involving three construction barges of M/s Afcons working on a project of ONGC in Western Offshore fields in the Arabian Sea and one drilling rig of ONGC deployed for exploration purpose.
“ONGC is taking all possible measures in coordination with ODAG (Offshore Defence Advisory Group) and MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre) to ensure the safety of personnel and vessels.”
The intensity of the cyclone is similar to the one that hit Gujarat in 1998, according to Mrutyunjay Mohapatra, director general of the national weather forecaster.
Cyclone Tauktae struck at a time when the country is battling a coronavirus pandemic. Hospitals and crematoriums in India are getting overwhelmed amid the world’s fastest-surging outbreak.
Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra state that escaped the worst of the storm, canceled coronavirus vaccinations at public centers on Monday and moved more than 600 patients from the so-called jumbo facilities — makeshift hospitals to accommodate the surge in infections — to government-run hospitals. The city’s international airport was shut for most of the day.
Ports in Gujarat remained closed on Tuesday because of the turbulent sea conditions and high wind speed, according to a state government official handling port operations. A decision on resumption will be taken depending on the situation in the afternoon.