Charges of culpable homicide to be brought against owner of tug lost in Tauktae Cyclone

Divers at the scene of the sunken tug. Photo credit: Indian Ministry of Defence
Divers at the scene of the sunken tug. Photo credit: Indian Ministry of Defence

Indian authorities have confirmed that charges of culpable homicide are being brought against the owner of the ocean-going tugboat that sank during a powerful storm off the coast of India last month. The barge P305 and the tugboat Varaprada were two of the vessels that found themselves caught on May 17 as Cyclone Tauktae passed offshore near Mumbai.

Both vessels were working for the state-run oil company operating in the offshore oilfields near Mumbai. The barge sank with 261 people aboard with 186 survivors. It captured international attention during the search and rescue operation staged by the Indian Navy. The storm had intensified with the winds reaching 110-mph. Media reports said that the crews had initially believed the storm would be far weaker and that they would be able to handle winds expected to be in the range of 25-mph.

The anchor handling tugboat Varaprada was bringing a construction barge, the Gal Constructor, loaded with 137 people back to Mumbai when the storm struck. The tug reportedly drifted in the high seas before separating from the barge, which would later run aground causing another search and rescue operation. The Varaprada, however, remained trapped in the high seas sinking with a crew of 13 aboard.

The Indian Navy rescued two of her crew members from the ocean and later divers located the sunken tugboat. The Indian Navy and Coast Guard recovered the bodies of the 11 missing crew members from the ocean along with 75 bodies from the barge.

A First Information Report was registered with the police in Mumbai on June 24 based on information provided by one of the survivors of the tugboat. Under Indian law, the charges were culpable homicide not amounting to murder, meaning that the owner of the tugboat is being charged with actions causing the death of the crew. The Hindustan Times is quoting the surviving second engineer, Francis Simon, as accusing the vessel’s owner with poor maintenance and skipping necessary repairs contributing to the loss of the tug on May 17.

The police in Mumbai are conducting a separate investigation into the circumstances of the loss of the barge P305. Media reports indicate that the investigation is also focusing on a case of culpable homicide in connection with the loss of the barge. The authorities said that the master of the barge, who was among those lost, has been named as an accused in that case.

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