Political interference that stifles Port officials and the delay in setting up a Maritime Board are to blame for recurring boat accidents in Kerala.
The muscle flexing and mass hysteria by unscrupulous boat operators against rule enforcers have made matters worse. The inability of the State government to counter it shows that it has not learnt any lesson from the boat accidents that have occurred in the State over the last decade.
The accidents snuffed out over 100 lives and dented the image of Kerala as a relatively safe tourism destination.
Director of Ports Jacob Thomas said political interference was the main handicap in enforcing safety norms. “This apart, boat operators resort to agitations when we strengthen enforcement.”
Moreover, there has been a delay of about three years in setting up a Maritime Board on the lines of one in Gujarat. “This umbrella organisation is crucial in ensuring quick decision-making and better coordination between agencies that have a stake in boat safety,” Mr. Thomas said.
Amid problem of inadequate boat jetties on Punnamada lake, allegation is rife that a boat-race pavilion for VIPs is being built over a portion of the existing jetty. Alappuzha, Kumarakom and Kollam together are home to about 1,500 houseboats and they do not have proper berthing amenities.
Speaking about Saturday’s accident, Mr. Thomas said the boat crew must have prevailed on the guests about how unsafe it is to crowd on one side of a small vessel. “The incident shows lack of basic training. Kerala Tourism must take the lead in creating awareness among guests, who must be briefed at the boat jetty.”
While admitting that there are lacunae like inadequate number of jetties, another senior port official said that dodgy boat operators seek the cover of Kerala’s globally acclaimed backwater tourism potential, to evade the law. “Many boats do not even have insurance cover, contrary to norms.”
Former head of Ship Technology Department in Cusat, S. K Pyarilal, who was a member of the B.R. Menon Committee on Boat Safety said Saturday’s incident could have happened because the ‘angle of heel’ of the small vessel exceeded 10 degrees due to the momentum caused by people crowding in it. A similar thing happened in Thekkady and Thattekkad where boats capsized.
The increase in the number of boat accidents calls for the involvement of more naval architects in design and rule enforcement, especially in cases where houseboats have swimming pools and conference rooms on upper deck.
“Having these is dangerous, unless the design suits it. Sadly, many boat builders are opting for shortcuts, even after the Kerala Inland Vessel Act has taken effect. The worst rule violators are vessels in Alappuzha,” Mr. Pyarilal said.