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Sep 19, 2005 03:02 PM 5636 Views
(Updated Sep 19, 2005 03:10 PM)


I was there. * This is a first hand story. Read on.

July 27, 2005,  was just another day in the Oil Field of Bombay High North Sea. I was sailing on board an Offshore Shore Supply Vessel(OSV) and heading the ship to anchorage after a day’s work in the rough monsoon seas of the Bassien Field.

At about 1630 hrs we got a radio message of proceed for Search and Rescue mission to the Bombay High North Platform(BHN), some 30 miles west of my present location. No other details were available. We altered course to BHN full ahead engines. Then we switched on the ships radio to 4141 kHz and all hell broke loose. We heard panic-stricken voices of other OSV’s operating close to BHN.

*“BHN platform pe aag lagi hai. All ships keep clear. Look out for survivors!”

“BHN pe explosion ho rahaa hai!”

“BHN platform has collapsed into the sea!”

“All ships all ships all ships, proceed with utmost caution. There are hundreds of people floating with life jackets. Samudra Surakha is also on fire!”

“Call for Navy helicopters, Coast Guard and Hospital ships!”*

My heart started to race. My blood pressure shot up. I looked at my watch worked out the distance and time to reach BHN. I would reach BHN in 3-hrs time. Enough time for us to organise search and rescue ops, get blankets, beds, medicines ready and the lifeboats to lower into the sea and brief all the crew.

Was this sabotage? RDX? Al Qaida operation?  I am a great admirer of Osama, as is George Bush. Osama can do anything.

I looked at the sea. Waves were 4 meters high, wind speeds about 25 knots. Rains and squally weather. Visibility poor. Very bad weather for a Search and Rescue Operations. We could just pray for the survivors floating in the chilly waters and hope OSV’s would succeed in rescuing the survivors.

Bombay High North Platform

BHN is the most important production platform from where oil and gas is pumped to Uran via undersea sea pipelines running to approx. 130 Nautical Miles.

It was simply unthinkable to imagine that this hugh platform about the size of a 15 storey high building, had exploded and simply disappeared into the sea!

Arrival BHN

My ship arrived near BHN at 1930 hrs after sunset.  We are given a search sector 15 miles South West of the BHN Platform. Within the hour we noticed two life boats marked MNW floating in the water. MNW is another big platform connected to BHN via a catwalk. We flashed flood lights into the life boats and with great difficulty secured the boat on the lee side of the ship……….No marks for what we did.


Well before we arrived, other OSV’s were rescuing survivors in full swing. Then we heard the voice of the Chief Engineer of BHN Platform on the radio explaining the sequence of events leading to fire and explosion and subsequent total collapse of the BHN platform. You have read it all in the newspapers and Tv, so I shall not write too much about that.

Sagar Suraksha a Multiple Support Dynamic Position Vessel(MSV) was operating close to BHN. A cook of the ship had accidentally chopped off his fingers and needed immediate medical assistance. Captain Suresh Chand, the Master of the ship, asked for Pawan Hans chopper to evacuate the man. The chopper could not land on Suraksha because of high seas and 5 meters swell. The only option was for Capt Chand to take a grave risk and save a life by approaching the BHN platform and transfer this striken man by a crane of the BHN Platform.Mr. Gawande, the Crane Operator of BHN did a fantastic job in pulling up the cook. Regretfully, when the platform exploded, Gawande evaporated  in the gas and flames, *but he did not leave his place of duty although he could have saved his life! *The cook survived!  He jumped into the sea and was picked up later. Men like Gawande makes India a great country. We all ordinary powerless citizens survive thanks to men like Gawande and the daring seafarers, as opposed to our great political leaders. Now the KGB says….chodo yaar. Same story old hat.

At that time there were 6 divers working at a depth of 80 meters under the sea tethered to  Suraksha’s diving bell.

Captain Chand managed to get the MSV under the crane and transfer the man safely to BHN. While pulling out, a hugh swell threw Suraksha out of control and she started to impact heavily against the gas pipelines of BHN. This ruptured the pipelines causing gas to envelop the BHN platform and Sagar Suraksha. A spark led to three successive explosions equivalent of a few thousands of tons of TNT. Within 20 minutes, BHN exploded and the hugh structure collapsed into the sea. Captain Chand, on the bridge of Suraksha managed to maneuver the ship away from BHN although he and his staff suffered severed severe burn injuries. He ordered the ship to be abandoned. All but 2 persons from his ship survived. Capt Chand was rescued with severe burn injuries. He will be crucified by the court of inquiry presently investigating this disaster. What is great is that Captain Chand, who has 40 years of sea experience has accepted all the blame and told his officers not to accept any liabilities for this disaster! This is leadership……accepting responsibility despite acts of God. We need men like Capt Chand….if India is to stay afloat. And men like Subir Raha, Chairman and his shore staff of ONGC disaster management cell.

But…….6 divers were trapped in the diving bell of Suraksha……….By any mathematical calculations they should have been given up for dead, because Suraksha was on fire! Their chances of survival were less than zero……I was a Diver. Read my profiles page. I know. Divers do not die like this. I told all who would listen that miracles do happen even under the sea….despite God’s designs! My fellow seafarers argued otherwise.


At day break ships of the Indian Navy and Coast Guard arrived from Mumbai. By then most of the survivors, some 326 people had been picked up by Offshore Supply Vessels of  Varun Shipping, Shipping Corpn of India, Great Eastern Shipping, Tide Water Shipping, ONGC OSV’s and Essar Shipping. The Indian Navy/Coast Guard picked up some 12 survivors. Notable ships NEEL AKASH, SAMUDRIKA 10, OIL TERN were the first to reach BHN. The Masters and crew of these 3 ships picked up 143 survivors within the hour of the accident. Subsequently SCI-01, Malavia 16 and many more picked up survivors, some 30 miles east of BHN.

Considering the adverse weather conditions all but 22 people rescued by 0800 hrs next morning.  SAR ops continued for five more days. Final death figs were 22.

Considering the magnitude of this Maritime disaster, the death toll was astonishingly small. Hats off to the ship handlers and Masters of the OSV’s who did a magnificent job. In my 36 years of sea life I have never witnessed such a super Search and Rescue Ops. This must be a World Record of some sort.

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