The raging fire that gutted an Oil and Natural Gas Corporation oil-drilling platform in the Bombay High oilfield area was caused when an ONGC vessel -- MSV Samudra Suraksha -- sent to pick up a sick worker on the oil rig collided with the giant platform, said ONGC Chairman and Managing Director Subir Raha on Thursday.
It was earlier believed that a multipurpose support vessel docked nearby crashed into the platform due to high tide and choppy seas.
"The accident took place at 4.05 pm on Wednesday when the ONGC vessel approached the process platform BHN (Bombay High North) to transfer an ill person to the platform where medical facilities are available," he said.
Raha said after the medical evacuation was completed, the vessel for some reasons, which are yet to be established, apparently lost control and collided with the process platform, resulting in the fire. This mishap resulted in serious oil leakage, engulfing the platform and the vessel in a major inferno, he said.
The personnel, both at platform and the vessel, made efforts to control the fire and abandoned the platform and vessel when the situation went beyond their control, he said.
"The platform was burning till this morning. However, the oil spill has been brought under control with the help of ONGC and Navy personnel," he said.
The damage to Samudra Suraksha was extensive but not enough to sink it. The vessel was insured for $60 million by ONGC.
Sumit Batra, a cook with Radhakrishna Caterers who provide food to those on the Bombay High platform, was on the rig when the mishap occurred. "The sea was very rough at that time. I heard three deafening blasts when the ship collided with the platform and the fire broke out. I saw people jumping into the sea out of fear. It was very frightening," he said.
Toll: 10; missing: 14; rescued: 361
Meanwhile, the death toll in the huge fire has risen to risen to 10 with 14 people still reported missing. There were 385 people on the platform when the incident took place. All the other 361 persons have been rescued.
The dead included six ONGC personnel and one each from MSV Samudra Suraksha and chartered drilling rig in NC Yester. Two bodies were yet to be identified, said the ONGC chairman.
Three vessels carrying 130 survivors and two bodies of those who died in the fire at the Victoria Dock, Mumbai Port Trust. The ships, Neel Akash with 55 survivors, Samudrika-10 with 22 survivors and one body on board, and Oil Tern with 53 survivors and the body of one more victim onboard reached Mumbai.
One of ONGC fire survivors Dinesh Singh, while speaking to rediff.com, said: "I jumped in the sea, I have never seen such a huge fire. I am thankful to God I am still alive." Singh was later rescued by the Navy officials.
Search is still on for missing persons, said Raha at a press conference in Mumbai, a thought that was also echoed in the Lok Sabha by Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar on Thursday
Raha said that the offshore Bombay High North platform was insured for $195 million under ONGC's offshore package insurance policy. The surveyors from the insurance companies are expected to assess the extent of damage soon, he added.
Raha said that committee of former chairmen and directors of ONGC has constituted to conduct an internal inquiry and go into the causes of this tragic accident, he said.
Royal Dutch/Shell will assist ONGC in probing the cause of a devastating fire at the oil platform. Shell will assist the committee.
The platform was 'totally lost in less than two hours along with a Pawan Hans helicopter positioned on it, said the ONGC chairman in Mumbai. He said that ONGC support and supply vessels and three chartered helicopters were quickly mobilised for search and rescue operations.
70% production to begin in 2 weeks
Raha said that ONGC, India's biggest oil producer, will restore in two weeks time about 70 per cent of the 100,000 barrels per day output lost due to the massive fire at the Bombay High North platform.
"We have a contingency plan in place. The 15 wells that poured oil into MHN will be looped to other platforms in the area. We hope to restore 70 per cent of the MHN's production in two weeks time," he said.
The Mumbai High fields, 160-km northwest of Mumbai in the Arabian sea produced more than half of the country's oil production of about 682,000 barrels a day (34 million tonnes), are broadly divided into two -- Mumbai High North and Mumbai High South.
"Production from Mumbai High North has halted but it is business as usual in the south," the official said. Mumbai High South produces 265,000 barrels of oil per day.
"Our first priority is relief and rescue operations. A smaller team is working on the contingency plan to restore production," the official said.
The ONGC official said, "We are confident of restoring the production levels of 100,000 barrels per day in less than six months time."
Meanwhile Aiyar said in the Lok Sabha that though the loss of the platform would immediately impact 110,000 barrels per day of crude production, it was expected that 70 per cent of this production would be restored over the next two weeks, while the rest of the production will be restored in four weeks.
The platform called Mumbai High North, which accounted for 27 per cent of the 365,000 barrels per day oil production from Mumbai High fields -- ONGC's largest.
Aiyar said that given the intensity of the fire and the consequent damage, the platform was abandoned according to a well-rehearsed drill used in offshore operations.
Additional inputs: PTI