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42 die in Kerala boat tragedy
Published on 1 Oct. 2009 11:58 PM IST
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The pleasure cruise that ended in a watery grave for 41 tourists in the famed Periyar wildlife sanctuary here could have been avoided, experts said Thursday, as the government admitted lapses in ensuring basic security measures like lifejackets. Eleven more bodies were pulled out of the Thekkady lake, upping the toll to 41. The double-decker boat in which they were traversing the lake, ringed by the forested sanctuary famous for its elephant sightings, capsized at 5.15 p.m. Wednesday, killing many of its 76 passengers. Officials said the dead comprised 12 each from Delhi and Tamil Nadu, five each from West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh, three each from Karnataka and Kerala and one from Mumbai. Idukki Superintendent of Police P.K. Kuttapayi told IANS: “The actual number of dead has been confirmed at 41. The rescue operations that were on since (Thursday) morning have been called off for the day.” Amid heart-rending scenes of bodies being recovered from the placid waters in central Kerala and officials busily preparing for them to be sent to their homes all over the country, angry questions were being asked. The accident could have been avoided if the state government had taken steps like appointing a Water Transport Safety Commissioner, said Justice K. Narayana Kurup, who headed the inquiry commission into the 2002 Kumarakom boat mishap that killed 27 people. “It is really sad to see that there is none to check such aspects. Just saying that this was a new boat does not mean anything. I wish to know if there was a dummy test done on the boat to see how it moves in the water? I feel there is some serious defect in the boat,” Kurup said. “Lapses like this will certainly affect the tourism industry in the state. Training has to be provided to the staff who operate the boats. They have to ensure that all those who travel in the boats must wear lifejackets. A fitness certificate must be given only after conducting proper tests,” Kurup told a TV channel. The driver of the boat, convalescing in a hospital, told reporters that he had steered the fibreglass boat belonging to the Kerala Tourism Development Corp (KTDC) only four times earlier. “If the boat was made of wood, this tragedy might have not occurred. I told the passengers not to crowd on one side. They did not listen. I lost control of the boat and it turned upside down,” Victor Samuel said. The Kerala government admitted its lapses but said it was an accident that would not hit tourist inflow to the state, promoted as ‘God’s own country’. There had been no proper systems in place to guide the passengers travelling in the boat, confessed Water Resources Minister N.K. Premachandran. He said the government would henceforth take all precautions, including ensuring that every passenger wore a lifejacket. “The boat was perfectly built. It was certified by the Indian Registry of Shipping,” the minister told IANS. Officials added that it was brand new and had been pressed into service only last month. Chief Minister V.S. Achuthananadan announced compensation of Rs.500,000 to the families of each of the deceased and an inquiry by a judge of the Kerala High Court. Congress president Sonia Gandhi conveyed her deep distress and said authorities should “take appropriate steps to ensure that such a tragedy never happens again”. State Forest Minister Binoy Vishwam also chipped in - suspension of boating activities and ordering all the boats in the Thekkady lake to undergo fitness tests. But that was scant comfort for the distraught families. In New Delhi, friends and families awaited the bodies of Pradeep Jain, his wife Sandhya, daughters Shruti and Sangeeta, mother-in-law Vimala and grandson Partha who had left home for an extended Dussehra break. The only survivor was his third daughter, Niti. “The family had gone on a holiday. We received a frantic call from Niti last night saying her parents and sisters had drowned in a boat accident. I still can’t believe it,” said a stunned Rajesh Sharma, a family friend and colleague. Also killed were Chandigarh executive Arun Koura, his wife Sruti and their daughters Anika and Renu. “The entire family is finished. How can god be so harsh with them,” said an inconsolable Anil Suri, his cousin. Why indeed? As rescuers called off their search due to bad weather and readied to come back Friday morning, that question resounded emptily.

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