On Saturday evening, the crew aboard barge Iris, began sinking near a breakwater near Mogaveerapatna in Ullal, near Mangaluru. Of the 27 men aboard, clinging to the barge which was located 2.2 nautical miles (4 km) off the Ullal coast, the Coast Guard was able to rescue only four of them. While 23 of them still remain stranded on the sinking barge, rescue operations were paused and resumed on Sunday morning.
The barge cum dredger, owned by a private firm which had been entrusted with the job of breakwater (a wall which is constructed to break the waves and protect the coast), was working on placing tetrapods on the beams on Saturday morning.
At 3.30 pm, the barge began leaning but the crew continued with their job. However, by 4.15 pm, the vessel had tilted by 30 degrees. The rescued crew on the barge told media persons that distress signals were sent out at 3.30 pm but the response was late.
The reason of the tilt is yet to be ascertained, media reports suggested.
The Coast Guard sent patrol vessel â€˜Amartyaâ€™ to the rescue of the stranded workers which reached the spot at 6.40 pm. The rescue vessel let down a life boat towards the barge and managed to rescue four workers. However, due to bad weather conditions, the life boat could not be deployed again.
Heavy winds and darkness made it difficult to rescue all the persons, reports said.
Though the weather conditions at sea were harsh, workers were sent on the barge to the breakwater site. Local youths questioned the reason why their lives were risked despite knowing the rough weather conditions. They also took the officials to task for not responding quickly. Many also felt that a chopper could be deployed to rescue the workers on board.
Despite repeated pleas, the Navy and district administration did not deploy helicopters for rescuing the workers. However, Coast Guard officials said that the weather was not suitable for helicopters to be pressed into service, media reports said.
The workers in fact had wanted to come to the shore on Saturday to receive their weekly payment.
The Coast Guard ship CGS Amartya which was pressed into rescue operations immediately after the first signal of distress was not equipped with a helicopter, which peeved the officials of the Disaster Management Committee of the district.
While Amartya was at position, communicating with the crew at night, Coast Guard deployed a hovercraft at 4am Sunday. ICGS Rajdoot has been kept on standby at short notice for sailing.