The death toll in the tourist boat accident in the Godavari river in Andhra Pradesh has risen to 38, with the recovery of 10 bodies on Wednesday (September 18). Eight more passengers of the ill-fated boat that capsized in the swollen river near Katchuluru in East Godavari district on Sunday are still missing.
The overloaded private vessel, carrying 73 people including the crew, was on its way to Papikondalu, a popular tourist spot when the mishap occurred on Sunday. As many as 27 passengers survived the tragedy and were admitted to hospitals at Rampachodavaram and Rajahmundry for treatment and trauma counselling.
“Ten decomposed bodies washed up to the shore at three different places along the river today. The search and rescue teams of the State and National Disaster Response Forces have recovered the bodies and handed them over to the authorities for conducting post-mortem,” an official of the State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA) said.
Two teams of National Disaster Relief Force (NDRF), three of SDRF and one deep diver team of the Indian Navy have been engaged in the search operations for the last three days.
The search teams, armed with special sonar equipment, have located the ill-fated boat at a depth of 70 to 80 ft, the officials said on Wednesday.
“A SDRF team from Uttarakhand is here along with specialist deep divers carrying side-scan sonar equipment. They have located the boat. Efforts are on to retrieve it with the help of Navy and other expert teams,” the state Director General of Police Gautam Sawang said.
Tourism, irrigation officials under cloud
The boat tragedy has exposed the loopholes in the implementation of the protocol for granting permissions for boat rides in the area. The ‘Royal Vashishta’ boat had no valid permission to ply on the route, either from the tourism department or irrigation department.
There was a ban on plying of boats due to heavy inflow of water into Godavari in the past few days following widespread rains. Ignoring the advisory, the tourist boat went ahead with the journey.
None of the victims was wearing a life jacket. The vessel operators have, however, claimed that the boat had150 jackets but most passengers had refused to wear them.
It has now emerged that the boat was overloaded. While its capacity was 50, there were over 73 people on board including the crew members.
The area around Katchuluru is known to have a lot of steep curves and whirlpools and is considered a dangerous spot. This was the third accident in the area in the last 50 years. In 1964, over 60 passengers were killed in a boat capsize. In 1984, a similar tragedy had claimed eight lives.
In May last year, a country boat carrying nearly 40 passengers capsized near Pasuvulanka village after it turned turtle, killing 22 people.
As per the safety protocol, issued in August last year, the route permissions for various vessels operating in the rivers should be given by the irrigation department. However, the latest tragedy reveals that the department did not follow the guidelines.