It has now sought help of police and District Tourism Promotion Council to confiscate boats

Staff crunch seems to have hamstrung Department of Ports’ drive to enforce boat safety norms.

With supervision lax, houseboats, shikaras and tourist vessels that do not conform to basic safety norms prescribed in the Kerala Inland Vessel (KIV) Rules, 2010 are having a free run through the State’s backwaters and navigable canals.

In the latest accident, a young couple from Vishakapatnam drowned in the Punnamada Lake on Tuesday when the shikara they were in sank. The vessel was plying illegally as the department had ordered it to stop operations last month.

“The stop memo was issued after a survey team found that the vessel had not undergone the annual stability test. Our survey teams are working hard to ensure that all the 2,000-odd boats in the State conform to safety norms. But we do not have manpower haul up rule violators,” said an official of the department.

The department has now sought the help of the police and the District Tourism Promotion Council to confiscate boats that fall foul of safety standards.

In May, a houseboat sank partially near Kumarakom after water seeped into its hull. The accident could have been prevented if the hull had water-tight compartments as mandated in inland navigation rule book.

To incentivise rule abiders and help tourists pick from among the safest boats, the Department of Ports has speeded up the process to publish a list of safe tourist boats.

The list will also be given to the police and tourism council, which could publish them.

On whether the ill-fated shikara’s driver had licence to ply boats, a source said: “As per our records, the vessel had an experienced driver. It is up to the police to probe whether the same person was steering the boat at the time of accident.” There were unconfirmed reports that an underage youth was controlling the motorised vessel.

A Ports’ surveyor has given preliminary report to the Alappuzha district collector.

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