21 of 22 bodies recovered; Tussle over custody of three boys

Search operations continued late into the evening on Monday to retrieve the last of the 22 persons who were killed when a boat capsized in the Pulicat lake on Sunday afternoon.

A helicopter was doing the rounds to aid boats that had gone into the sea in search of the body of V.Anitha, who was part of the group of persons who went on a joy ride in the boat. According to police sources, Anitha used to work in the departmental store owned by the family of Soundarapandian Nadar in Gummidipoondi.

Police sources said that the boat driver Ansari swam against the current and reached the shore late on Sunday. He was arrested and later granted bail.

Earlier on Monday, the remaining five bodies were brought to the Ponneri Government Hospital for postmortem. All the bodies of the family members were then taken to a burial ground in Gummidipoondi.

Anxious relatives and neighbours of the family hung around the hospital premises to gather news about the incident and the three survivors of the tragedy: Janakaraj (14), Paul Dinakaran (10) and Ponraj (12). Dairy Development Minister V. Moorthy and Environment Minister B. V. Ramanaa visited the children in the hospital.

After being discharged from the hospital, all three boys will be taken to the home of a relative on their mother's side. “The boys will be looked after by their maternal uncle K.Kamaraj who lives in Tiruvottiyur,” said S. Jenitha, first cousin of Janakaraj and Paul Dinakaran. “Formalities are under way so the boys can be discharged by tonight [Monday],” she added.

However, her sister S.Anitha said that neighbours in the area in which the family lived are claiming custody of the children.

“Since this morning, people who live on the same road as the family have wanted to take care of the children. They claim they know the children very well and they should be granted custody of the children and the property,” she said, adding several people have hindered the process of completing the formalities.

Sources at the Tiruvallur district administration said that the decision relating to the custody of the children would be taken after discussions with the relatives and NGOs.

Other relatives said they came to know of this incident only after watching the news on television and immediately rushed to the hospital.

“The family usually travels to the East Coast Road to visit amusement parks or they visit the Velankanni Church. It so happened, yesterday, they did not have much time so they decided to go for a boat ride in the Pulicat Lake,” said S.Pamila, a relative of one of the daughters-in-law of the family. “I was also invited to go along since I live in Ponneri but I could not go due to some work,” she added.