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Updated: May 19, 2013 00:55 IST

Islanders all at sea

Staff Reporter
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Relatives throng the hospital where the survivors of the boat capsize were admitted in Lakshadweep on Saturday. Photo: Special Arrangement
Relatives throng the hospital where the survivors of the boat capsize were admitted in Lakshadweep on Saturday. Photo: Special Arrangement

Acute shortage of boats from islands in Lakshadweep to nearby islands and to mainland Kerala forces people to cram themselves into whatever vessel is available, at the cost of safety.

This often ends in disasters like what happened on Saturday when a trawler carrying 29 people capsized near Kadamat island, resulting in the death of five people.

Sources said that the commuters opted for this mode of unsafe transport as there is acute shortfall of safe, bigger boats to ferry people between 11 of the 36 inhabited islands in the archipelago. Sources in the administration said that a similar accident had taken place in Kadamat about six years ago, in which a few people died.

The boat’s wreckage is yet to be traced since it is feared that it was washed away by strong currents near the Kadamat coast.

Administration’s failure

Lakshadweep-based human rights activist and political leader Komalam Koya said that the accident would not have happened if the island’s administration and Lakshadweep Development Corporation Ltd (LDCL) had put in operation 65-foot-long boats (called ‘Pookunji’ in local parlance) for inter-island transport. “Only Kavaratti island has a few such vessels. Due to its absence, people are forced to travel in 30-foot-long trawlers like the one that capsized.”

He alleged that there was inordinate delay in commissioning bigger vessels and high-speed vessels that can carry up to 150 people. The high-speed ones are also operated from the islands to ports in Kerala. There are allegations of graft in awarding contracts to construct vessels, which is one reason for the huge delay in fixing a contractor and commissioning boats, Mr Koya said.

Mainland connectivity

Due to the shortage, hundreds of islanders – including those who want specialty medical care, have to wait for weeks to get a ticket for boarding ships from the islands to Kochi and Beypore, he said and added that many agencies in the island are vying with one another to gain control of the boat/ship operations and maintenance in the isle, with dubious intent.

This apart, there are complaints of most islands in Lakshadweep not having berthing facility, forcing people who return from Kerala to jump down from ships into small boats which take them to their islands.

‘More ships needed’

While stating that people commuting in trawlers through the sea is very unsafe, the Director of Lakshadweep Ports, Mikhdad, said that there is need to introduce high-speed vessels between islands to ensure safe commuting during the monsoon and unfavourable weather. Referring to Thursday’s incident, he said that people might have crammed themselves into the boat because of the vacation season. “We will approach the Central government for speeding up the acquisition process of bigger vessels,” he said and added that two more ships, each having capacity for 400 passengers, will be ready for inter-island and island-mainland transport by December.

Even this will not be sufficient to cater to the whopping demand for boats and ships, sources said.

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Five drown in Lakshadweep boat capsizeMay 19, 2013

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