Mumbai 2021 Oil Barge Sinking Victims’ Families Still Fighting for Compensation
Representational use only.Image Courtesy: Flickr
Bengaluru: Cyclone Tauktae was a severe tropical cyclone that formed in the Arabian Sea in May 2021. The storm caused widespread destruction and resulted in numerous fatalities across several coastal states in India, including Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Goa. It was one of the strongest storms to impact the region in recent years and was associated with strong winds and heavy rains.
The impact of the storm was exacerbated by the fact that it made landfall during the COVID-19 pandemic, which posed additional challenges for relief and rescue operations. In addition to causing widespread damage to homes and infrastructure, the cyclone also disrupted power and communication systems in affected areas, making it more difficult for people to access essential services and information.
The storm caused significant damage to the maritime sector, with several barges and ships being affected by the strong winds and high seas. Some of the barges were being used to support oil and gas operations off the coast of India, and the sinking of these vessels resulted in oil spills and other environmental hazards.
P-305 or Papaa-305, a barge owned by Durmast Enterprises Limited was one of the vessels that sank in the Tauktae cyclone. A barge is a flat-bottomed boat used for carrying cargo or passengers along waterways. They are typically large, slow-moving vessels that can carry heavy loads and are used in commercial shipping operations. Barges come in different sizes and designs and can be powered by engines or tugboats. They are used in construction, dredging, waste disposal, and other applications and play an important role in many industries.
Barge P-305 was chartered to a contractor named AFCONS Infrastructure and was engaged by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) for the maintenance of its offshore gas and oil fields. P-305 sank on May 17 as cyclone Tauktae barreled towards Gujarat past the Maharashtra coast.
P-305 was carrying 261 crew members on the week Tauktae hit, some of whom were working for Mathew Associates, a firm which was subcontracted by AFCONS for its workforce. The sinking of P-305 was said to be the result of negligence on part of senior officials including the director of a shipping firm.
According to family members of the victims, the barge was not in a good condition while it was carrying on with its daily operations. Despite several warnings of the cyclone, it did not return in time to the shore, causing the sinking. As Indian Express reported, the chief engineer of the barge also claimed that the captain had ignored the warnings of bad weather and on top of that, 14 life rafts had holes in them.
Shortly after the disaster, with a death toll of more than 70, ONGC and AFCONS announced a rapid relief of Rs 2,00,000 and Rs 5,00,000, respectively, to the families who had lost their loved ones. This author confirmed with the family members of some of the victims that they had received the amount.
AFCONS had also announced that each family member will be compensated for the death of their loved ones with Rs 35-75 lakh to each family along with a pension. But, according to Murli Singh, whose 23-year-old son, Vijay, died on the duty, AFCONS has not just delayed the compensation but has changed it to just Rs 15 lakh.
Vijay Singh, 23, one of the victims of the accident
“Representatives from AFCONS are calling me on my phone and asking me to accept Rs 15 lakh as compensation, and are inviting me to Mumbai to sign an agreement barring me from legally approaching the matter,” Vijay’s father told this writer.
He added, “Vijay’s mother was suffering from health issues so we wanted our son to be home, for that I had already booked his tickets. We desperately called the company before the storm for a couple of days to send Vijay home on leave, but the person on the call told us they could not send just one person as the barge was away on the work site. Vijay also told us in a Whatsapp call that they are not accepting his leave application. I still have that ticket with me.”
Amit Kumar, 26, another victim of the accident
Another casualty, Amit Kumar, was a 26-year-old engineer from Bihar who was employed by Mathew Associates in P-305. Amit was one of the casualties of the sinking.
“AFCON has not paid the promised Rs 75 lakh till now, instead they are calling me to Mumbai like other victims’ families for a reduced compensation of Rs 15 lakh,” Amit’s elder sister, Kavita, told this writer, adding “they are offering the same job to my elder brother, but we do not want to send him for the same job which took Amit’s life.”
While some of the families are still waiting for compensation, others were desperate to settle as soon as possible. One of them is Soni Pandey, 24. Soni was married to Arjun Pandey, 28, who was working as a welder for AFCONS. At the time when the news of her husband’s death reached Soni, she was six months pregnant with their first child; Arjun and Soni had got married in 2020.
Apart from the Rs 7 lakh in assistance from AFCONS and ONGC, Soni said: “AFCONS offered me and my in-laws Rs 14 lakh each, but they did so by informing me that I would neither get any Provident Fund (PF) money nor any pension." She added, “They also did not offer me any job, how will I take care of my son with just Rs 14 lakh?.” Arjun is survived by Soni and their one-year-old son.
Queries were sent to both Matthew Associates and AFCONS Infrastructure, the story will be updated if any response is received.
The author is an independent journalist.
Get the latest reports & analysis with people's perspective on Protests, movements & deep analytical videos, discussions of the current affairs in your Telegram app. Subscribe to NewsClick's Telegram channel & get Real-Time updates on stories, as they get published on our website.