ONGC officers’ association guns for Afcons after 86 dies in mishap during Cyclone Tauktae

P Manoj Mumbai | Updated on June 04, 2021

The body wants management to initiate criminal proceedings against contractor

An officers’ association of the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd (ONGC) has urged the management to debar Afcons Infrastructure Ltd and initiate criminal proceedings against the contractor for its alleged failure to adhere to the weather warnings given by ONGC on Cyclone Tauktae in which 86 workers on board an accommodation barge died.

The accommodation barge ‘P-305’ broke from its anchor in heavy winds and high waves brought by cyclone Tauktae and sank after hitting an unmanned oil platform off the coast of Mumbai on May 17.

The Association of Scientific and Technical Officers (ASTO) of ONGC has also sought withdrawal of disciplinary actions initiated against some officers of ONGC following the incident.

ASTO said it will be “constrained to take further action” if their demands are not met by June 15.

While the process of inquiry is on, action against ONGC officials prima facie seems “motivated and to divert attention” from the contractor, the ASTO wrote in a June 2 letter to the chairman and managing director of ONGC. The “unjustified disciplinary action” will adversely affect the moral of ONGC employees who have continued field operation and production in adverse conditions during the pandemic by braving many challenges.

The disciplinary action has been initiated without following the due procedure as established by law, without giving a fair hearing to said persons, and has been taken in the absence of any concrete and cogent proof of violation of policy/practice, it said.

“The contractor Afcons who is the major offender in this case has so far gone scot free,” the ASTO alleged.

According to the Association, the severity of the storm was much higher than the initial forecast and the path of the storm also shifted significantly, affecting more oil installations.

“ONGC as per procedure transmitted the weather alerts as well as advisory for ensuring safety to all process installations, drilling rigs, vessels, and construction barges working in the field well in time. All the operational areas ensured the same except the construction barge Papaa-305 chartered and operated by Afcons,” it said.

“Afcons not only failed to adhere to the weather warnings but also put the personnel of the barge at risk by not moving out to harbour as other 21 barges did in order to reduce the risk,” it added.

It is a statutory requirement of DG Shipping that each vessel operating in high seas has a system of taking weather warnings from their established sources and the captain of the ship is the ultimate authority to decide on the further course of action to be taken.

Of the 22 barges working for ONGC during that period, 19 adhered to the weather advisory given by ONGC except the three barges belonging to Afcons, ASTO said.

According to the Association, the statement given by the master of ‘GAL Constructor’, another barge that broke from its anchor, to the High Level Committee probing the mishap, further confirms that they were instructed by Afcons to stay back in Mumbai High and when ‘GAL Constructor’ dropped the anchor and towed with tugboat 'Varaprada' to get entry into Mumbai Port Trust on 16 May, they were not allowed as payment for the same had not been made by Afcons. This was a “criminal lapse on the part of Afcons,” the ASTO alleged.

Afcons denies allegations

Afcons has denied the allegations made by ASTO.

“The letter makes several unsubstantiated and factually incorrect allegations against Afcons all of which are belied by the voluminous documentary evidence on record that Afcons has already submitted to the high-powered committee (HPC) that is investigating this incident,” Afcons said in a statement.  

The letter is replete with misinformed allegations, including that the barges chartered by Afcons did not leave the operational area in time.

It is well known and documented that all barges charted by Afcons were instructed to demobilise from the work area and did so by May 14/15, well before the onset of the full fury of Cyclone Tauktae.

“Given that the matter is being reviewed by HPC, it is unfortunate that such aspersions contrary to facts and devoid of truth are cast,” it added.

Published on June 03, 2021

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