Kerala boat tragedy: Oversight, corruption resulted in one of state's deadliest accidents
The Kerala boat accident that killed 22 and injured many has opened a can of worms about regulatory malpractice, oversight, and negligence that culminated into one of the state’s deadliest accidents.
On Sunday night, the operator of the tour boat, Atlantic, not only kept its services open well beyond the stipulated hours but also let greed take over as the vessel was overcrowded with tourists, including women and children.
Police officers said that the vessel, which was initially a fishing boat, carried at least 30-40 passengers onboard.
Eyewitnesses told local news outlet Manorama that the boat operators continued to invite more people to join saying that it was the ‘last trip of the day’, despite the boat being overloaded.
PK Kunhalikutty, an MLA of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), told PTI that the boat violated the rule of vessels not being allowed to operate after 6 pm.
The incident took place around 7 pm (local time) near an estuary in Thooval Theeram Beach in the Tanur area.
On Monday, police caught the owner of the boat from the Kozhikode beach area after a 24-hour manhunt.
A senior police officer of Malappuram district confirmed to PTI news agency that the boat owner, Nasar, has been caught.
"He has been caught from the Calicut (Kozhikode) beach area. He has not been arrested formally. He will be brought here (Malappuram)," the officer, who has not been named, was quoted as saying.
How did the tragedy happen?
Police officers said that the boat was carrying 40 passengers, well beyond its capacity, which made it tilt to one side, and eventually, it capsized.
The accident happened in the backwaters of Thooval Theeram, which is situated on the banks of the estuary of the Poorapuzha River joining the Arabian Sea.
The beach was crowded with visitors due to the holiday. The accident happened while passengers were returning from the trip.
The first rescue boat took almost 15 minutes to reach the spot due to a lack of light.
Was it really a ferry boat?
No. According to officials, the double-decker boat was initially a fishing boat. It is alleged that the owner modified it into such a boat for tourism and illegally bought a licence to run it as a passenger boat.
According to local reports, several complaints were made against the Atlantic boat owner and even senior government officials were notified of its illegal activity, but none paid heed.
It has been claimed that the owner, Nasser, used his political clout to suppress any complaint and made sure that his business ran uninterrupted.
Moreover, it has been reported that the boat lacked adequate safety measures, like lifejackets, which resulted in a high number of casualties.
The boat was not given a safety certificate which is mandatory for tourist boats, and it entered the waters late in the evening on Sunday despite a ban on boat rides post-sunset.
What has the government done?
Despite several fatal boat accidents in Kerala over the last 100 years and three Commission of Inquiry reports recommending preventive measures, lack of government intervention resulted in the boating tragedy, reports PTI news agency.
A district disaster management authority in a meeting in February this year reportedly warned of illegal boat operations.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday visited the Taluk Hospital, Tirurangadi in Malappuram district where survivors of the boat tragedy near the Tanur coast were admitted.
The Kerala government also ordered a judicial probe into the incident. The chief minister announced Rs one million compensation to the kin of victims and said the government will bear the treatment expense of the injured people.