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FPJ Legal: ‘Accused did not exercise caution’, court refuses bail to employees of shipping firm handling barge that sank during Cyclone Tauktae

06:40 PM Jul 24, 2021 | Urvi Mahajani

A sessions court on Friday rejected the bail pleas of employees of a shipping firm incharge of operations in barge P - 305 which sank in May during cyclone Tauktae, stating that they did not exercise the caution expected of them.

The three - Prasad Rane, office administrator at Papaa Shipping Company Pvt. Ltd, Nitin Singh, a director and Akhilesh Tiwari, technical superintendent at the firm, had approached the court for bail after a magistrate court had denied relief to them.

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Additional Sessions Judge UM Padwad said in his order that only the barge in question was in the sea and all other barges and boats had already returned to the shore. “It is quite obvious that the accused persons too had every knowledge of the fast changing weather conditions and still did not make any attempt to apprise the captain of the severity of the cyclone from their side. They apparently were content with whatever the captain would decide,” the court observed. The captain Rakesh Ballav, who had decided to stay put near a rig during the cyclone, was one of the 71 out of 261 crew on board the ill fated barge, who had lost their lives in the tragedy.

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“The accused thus did not exercise proper caution that was required of them. That was more necessary since the captain was obviously not taking a proper decision..” it noted.

Judge Padwad said it is pertinent to note that when the police searched their office, the CPU containing relevant data, was missing. “This rather extends substantial credence to the prosecution case that the accused had every knowledge of the havoc and impact the cyclone was going to make and yet the barge and its members were allowed to stay at sea.

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It rejected their submission that life saving equipment was provided in the barge and pointed out to witness statements that life jackets were of substandard quality and soon got punctured. The order also mentioned the narration of the chief engineer at the barge and a survivor, who lodged the police complaint, in which he had stated that the incident was more a matter of negligence than a genuine human error of judgment.

The trio had claimed bail on the grounds that ONGC that had deployed the barge for Mumbai High Operations and the firm AFCON to which its owner had chartered it, were responsible. They also said that the captain had all the weather updates and if he made a wrong decision, they cannot be blamed for it.

Few days after the incident,the Yellow Gate police station had booked the three under IPC Sec 304(II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder) among other offences.

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