New Delhi: The fierce backlash over the death of 86 people onboard ONGC barge P305 in May has prompted a series of suspensions, showcause notices and transfers at state-run Oil & Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), but no action has been taken so far against the operator of the barge which capsized and sank in the Arabian Sea on May 17 — Afcons — sources who spoke to PSU Watch on the condition of anonymity said on Wednesday. According to sources, this has created a lot of resentment among the employees at the state-run oil major and the management is being seen as siding with the operator of the barge and against its own workforce.
Even as an inquiry into the barge mishap is underway at ONGC, sources have claimed that at least three Executive Directors (ED) have been suspended in connection to the accident, while several other officers have been served showcause notices, and some have been transferred. The ONGC management could not be reached for an official comment on the same over the phone or email by the time the story was published. This story will be updated when ONGC offers an official comment on the same.
Meanwhile, PSU Watch has accessed a letter written to ONGC Chairman and Managing Director Subhash Kumar by the Association of Scientific and Technical Officers (ASTO) of ONGC on Wednesday which makes mention of the disciplinary action initiated by the oil and gas behemoth against few "senior officers."
While accusing Afcons of repeated safety and human rights violations, the ASTO said, "The fact is that there were 22 barges working for ONGC during that period (the period when Cyclone Tauktae hit the western coast of India) and 19 of them adhered to ONGC weather advisory but the three barges belonging to M/s AFCONS did not. M/s AFCONS failed to adhere to the requirements of the Marine Operations manual, bridging documents, warnings issued by ONGC. They also gave false information to ONGC that they have taken adequate precaution as per ONGC's advisory. It is not a coincidence that all three barges belong to M/s AFCONS because this company time and again has violated safety and human rights norms and has scant respect for ONGC's safe practices."
The association has said in the letter that in the aftermath of the barge mishap, despite warnings issued by ONGC about an impending oil leakage at barge GAL Constructor, which de-anchored and drifted due to the impact of Cyclone Tauktae, Afcons took action only after 1 KL of lube oil had leaked into the sea. "Though the warnings were issued on 19th May 2021, M/s AFCONS took action only after 25th May 2021 till that time nearly 1KL of lube oil had already leaked into the sea," ASTO said in the letter to the ONGC CMD.
"It seems that ONGC has initiated disciplinary actions against a few of our senior officers while the process of inquiry is on. The contractor M/s AFCONS who is the major offender in this case has so far gone scot-free," said the association. ASTO also said that questions are being raised over why no notice has been issued against AFCONS so far though they have clearly violated the safety norms and human rights and why no criminal case has been filed against them?
The association has demanded the withdrawal of disciplinary action against ONGC officers that are not based on the outcome of a factual inquiry, initiation of action against Afcons and their partners, debarring of Afcons and their partners from further work in ONGC with immediate effect and imposition of penalty on the company for their failure to take timely action to avoid oil spill after the barge P305 mishap.
Cyclone Tauktae hit the Arabian Sea off the coast of Mumbai in the early hours of May 17, where ONGC's major production installations and drilling rigs were located. Three construction barges of Afcons, working on a project of ONGC in Western Offshore fields in the Arabian Sea, and one floater drilling rig of ONGC were severely impacted in the cyclone. The news garnered a lot of limelight as one of the accommodation barges operated by Afcons for ONGC, barge P305, de-anchored, drifted and sank into the sea with 261 employees on board. The barge mishap caused massive outrage because 86 employees were killed in the mishap. Survivors revealed later that all the life rafts on the vessel were punctured and they had to wear life jackets and inflatable rings and jump into the sea to save themselves.