All the passengers on board belonged to one family. The head of the family, Soundarapandian annachi, ran a hotel on the Gummidipoondi bypass road.

A Christmas joy ride turned into a tragedy for 22 members of a family, when a boat capsized near the sea mouth of the Pulicat lake backwaters on Sunday afternoon.

Only three boys were rescued out of the 25 present in the boat. A dozen bodies were fished out by rescuers late evening.

The search operations were set to go on into the night.

Ashok, an alert fisherman who was in a boat in the vicinity, rescued Paul Dinakar (10), Ponraj (12), and Janakaraj (13).

All the passengers on board belonged to one family. The head of the family, Soundarapandian annachi, ran a hotel on the Gummidipoondi bypass road.

His grandson was baptized on Sunday morning. Many relatives had joined them for the joyous occasion and a group of over 20 family members made the trip to the Pulicat lake.

Official sources said though the boat could hold no more than 10 passengers, there were 25 on board when the accident happened.

No vests

The boat was not equipped with life vests. The boat driver Ansari (19) and his wife Nasirin Begam, who until recently worked in the hotel in Gummidipoondi, are also feared dead. Ansari's uncle Babu Masthan said: “No one should ever be allowed to take tourists into the sea again. Should this happen to us just a day before the tsunami anniversary?”

Following the accident, two Coast Guard ships were diverted to aid in rescue operations.

Chief Minister Jayalalithaa on Sunday announced an ex gratia of Rs. 1 lakh each to the families of the 22 victims.

The sum will be provided from the Chief Minister's Public Relief Fund.

Ms. Jayalalithaa instructed Dairy Development Minister V. Moorthy and Environment Minister B. V. Ramanaa to rush to the spot and oversee relief work, an official press note said. Governor K. Rosaiah expressed condolences to the bereaved families.