Indian navy ships have worked through the night to recover the bodies of 37 people on board a barge that sank off Mumbai as a powerful storm lashed the region this week, as hopes faded for 38 people still missing since the cyclone struck on Monday.
Navy spokesman Mehul Karnik said on Thursday that five ships, a surveillance plane and three helicopters were involved in the search. He said most of 188 survivors and the 37 bodies arrived in Mumbai, The Associated Press reported.
The barge, with more than 260 people on board, sank after the storm caused by Cyclone Tauktae smashed into the Bombay High oilfield near Mumbai, where India’s biggest offshore oil rigs are located.
The survivors bobbed up and down in life jackets for up to eight hours before they were picked up by the rescuers, a survivor said.
In another operation, a navy helicopter rescued 35 crew members of another barge, which ran aground north of Mumbai, a government statement said.
Both barges were working for the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), the largest crude oil and natural gas company in India. The company said the vessels were carrying personnel deployed for offshore drilling.
Several other ONGC vessels were stranded in the storm and the government has set up a committee to inquire into the sequence of events.
Cyclone Tauktae packed sustained winds of up to 210 kilometres (130 miles) per hour, leaving dozens dead in Gujarat and Maharashtra states as it pummelled India’s western coast late on Monday, leaving a trail of destruction, compounding the misery for a country struggling with a devastating surge in coronavirus cases.
Officials reported more than 16,000 houses were damaged in Gujarat and thousands of trees and electric poles uprooted.
The death toll rose to 53 on Wednesday but it could rise further, with local newspapers saying almost 80 people had died in the state, many killed by collapsing houses or walls.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday inspected the damage from the air. The federal government declared financial aid worth 10 billion Indian rupees ($137m) for immediate relief activities for Gujarat.