In a swift operation early on Thursday, Coast Guard commandos rescued all the 15 crew members on board ‘MT Pratibha Cauvery’ that remained stranded off the Chennai coast. The crew members were airlifted one after the other by two helicopters and dropped along the shores.
Search operations were on to locate the five persons reported missing since Wednesday evening. They were among the 22 crew members, including the Captain, who embarked in life boats, abandoning the tanker fearing that it might sink, defence sources said on Thursday.
Questions raged over the ship master’s decision to leave the ship in stormy weather so close to the coast, when it would have been far safer to stay put. Coast Guard officials said the crew members ignored the advice to remain on board.
The Mumbai-based ship with 37 on board was at outer anchorage, but its bid to sail out to the safety of the open sea failed amidst strong winds on Wednesday and it drifted towards the Elliots beach here.
It subsequently ran aground a couple of hours later. Later in the night, the vessel was pushed to Nochi Kuppam.
While 22 embarked on two life boats to reach the shores, 15 others decided to stay. The life boats toppled soon. Defence personnel and fishermen managed to rescue 17 persons and one of them was declared dead in a private hospital at Adyar.
Though defence and port authorities were aware of the ship’s distress, rescue vessels could not be launched to tow it to safety owing to inclement weather.
“The wind was blowing at about 120 kmph and the tides rose to at least seven metres…there was no way to reach the stranded ship. Any attempt by helicopter or a smaller ship would have been suicidal,” Deputy Inspector-General of Coast Guard (Region East), Gurupdesh Singh told The Hindu.
After the cyclonic conditions settled, helicopters rescued all the stranded persons shortly after 5.30 a.m. The search operations spanned 20 nautical miles in all directions.