A boat carrying over 70 people, without valid permission and the provision of life jackets, capsized in the Godavari river in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh on Sunday (September 15), leading to the death of 12 passengers.
National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams have rescued 24 people so far while the search is still on for the missing. Bodies of 12 people have been retrieved so far, said police. And none of those on board were wearing life jackets, added official sources.
The boat, Royal Vashishta, was overloaded with over 70 people, including the crew, on board even though the maximum carrying capacity of the boat was 50. Most of them were tourists travelling to Papikondalu, a famous tourist spot near Rajahmundry.
The tragedy occurred near Kachuluru in East Godavari district, about 210 km from Vijayawada. As the overloaded boat tilted to one side and then overturned, panic-stricken passengers tried to climb on to the top of the boat to save themselves.
Boat defied warnings
The authorities had advised the boat operators not to venture into the river since it was in full spate due to widespread rains in the past few days. Besides, the river was flooded about a week ago due to the rainfall, submerging 16 villages in the Devipatnam mandal. Another flood warning was sounded last Monday after water discharge from the river touched 14 lakh cusecs.
However, ignoring the advisory, the tourist boat went ahead with its journey on Sunday. To worsen its fate, the area around Kachuluru is known to have a lot of steep curves and whirlpools.
Speaking to The Federal, East Godavari Collector D Muralidhar Reddy said, “Boating was strictly not allowed in the Godavari river. Despite that, the tourists had ventured into the water.”
It was the second time in the last two months the district was facing floods. In the first week of August, over 70,000 people were affected in both East and West Godavari districts and 18,000 people were displaced as nearly 400 villages were declared flood-hit.
Further, official sources said that though the boat operators claimed that about 150 life jackets were available on board, none of the passengers were found wearing them.
While some of the tourists swam to the Tutukunta village nearby, about 24 passengers were rescued by the NDRF teams, who had quickly rushed to the spot. Among the passengers, 22 were from Warangal and Nalgonda districts of Telangana, while others were from Vijayawada.
Facing the first major crisis after taking over the reins of the state over three months ago, Chief Minister YS Jagan Mohan Reddy announced an ex-gratia of ₹10 lakh each to the families of those killed in the mishap.
He announced suspension of licences of all boats operating along the Godavari river and directed the officials to conduct a thorough inspection of all the boats.
Along with two NDRF teams, each comprising 30 members, navy helicopters were deployed in the rescue operation. Two boats of the state tourism department were also sent to the spot.
The rescued passengers have been shifted to a government hospital in Rampachodavaram, said East Godavari SP Adnan Nayeem Asmi. One of the rescued passengers told a local television channel that the boat suddenly tilted in the river and overturned.
S Nukaraju and Tamaraju, who were steering the boat, are still missing. The owner of the boat, Ramana, said that the spot where the mishap occurred was a dangerous one with whirlpools.
Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh Tourism Minister M Srinivasa Rao said that the capsized boat did not have a licence from the tourism department, but had permission from Kakinada Port authorities. Home Minister M Sucharita has assured that action would be taken against the officials responsible the lapses.
Former Chief Minister and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief N Chandrababu Naidu and Jana Sena party chief Pawan Kalyan have expressed shock over the boat tragedy and asked their party workers to take part in the rescue operations.
Last year, a similar tragedy had struck the region claiming 20 lives.
(With inputs from Vignessh Jayavel)