A houseboat that set off from Alappuzha sank partially while nearing Kumarakom to pick up guests from a hotel on Sunday afternoon. The crew members swam to safety.

Grave could have been the situation if the accident, caused after the boat hit a log, had happened with guests aboard.

“Most crew members know swimming, while that’s not the case with guests,” said Director of Ports Jacob Thomas.

The accident mirrors the tragedy in November last when a houseboat parked for night stay with 15 guests on board partially sank in the Vembanad Lake. Tourists had to be shifted to safety as water surged in at an alarming pace.

Jayaram, a naval architect in the team deputed to probe Sunday’s accident, said the wooden vessel had sunk partially, with water up to the deck. “The exact reason for the accident can be ascertained only after it is taken out. We are probing whether wooden planks of the hull gave away because of bad construction or after it hit somewhere as claimed by the boat’s crew.”

He said the accident could have been prevented if the hull had water-tight compartments.

Boat owners resist enforcement

Three years since Kerala Inland Vessel (KIV) Rules - 2010 took effect, a section of houseboat owners in Kerala are resisting stability tests. Aimed at preventing sinking, the rules insist that all boats have multiple compartments in the hull. Houseboat owners – especially those who own wooden boats — are fighting the rule. Multiple compartments ensure that boats stay afloat even if one compartment develops a leak.

The wooden houseboat that sank in the Vembanad backwaters on Sunday did not have compartments in the hull.

In the last two years, there has been an upswing in accidents where houseboats sank or caught fire because of flaws in construction, inexperienced crew steering or careless handling of LPG cylinders in the kitchen.

An accident in Alappuzha in January this year killed five tourists from Tamil Nadu.

This is apart from the three major accidents involving tourist vessels and one in which a ferry capsized, killing over 120 people, including foreign tourists, in the past decade in Kerala.

Mr Jacob Thomas said the Port Department’s chief surveyor and naval architects had been asked to submit a preliminary report on whether the crew members were competent and whether the boat was fit for operation. “The owner will be charged with criminal negligence if he defaulted in any of these counts.”

On complaints that owners of wooden boats were reluctant to install compartments in the hull, the president of All Kerala Houseboat Owners’ Association Jacob Samuel said new houseboats had them.

The head of Cusat’s Ship Technology Department, Prof. K. Sivaprasad said adding compartments to the hull can cost up to Rs 1 lakh. “Yards must be well-equipped to do this job. More surveyors must be recruited so that they can inspect all boats in the State within a fixed time frame.”

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