Most victims of boating tragedy in A&N islands from Chennai, Kancheepuram; helpline set up

The State government has directed the commissioner of revenue administration (CRA) T.S. Sridhar and the revenue secretary Gagandeep Singh Bedi to rush to Port Blair and oversee relief operations following Sunday afternoon’s boating tragedy in which over 20 persons are feared dead.

The officers have been asked to provide relief to the survivors and ensure that the bodies of the deceased are brought back to Chennai on Monday.

A helpline (1070) has been set up at the office of the CRA. The public can also contact the district control room, south Andaman district at 03192-240127, 230178 and 238881.

Most of the victims are from Chennai and Kancheepuram. Survivors of the mishap confirmed that they had made bookings for a package tour offered by tourist operator Shree Pooja Tours. The touring party of 32 persons had reached Andaman and Nicobar Islands on January 23 and were scheduled to return on January 26.

The accident took place towards the end of their day-long sightseeing trip, when their boat ‘Aqua Marine’ was returning from Ross Island to North Bay.

Addressing a press conference in Kancheepuram, collector K. Bhaskaran said efforts were being taken to bring back the survivors.

The ordeal

In a telephone interview with The Hindu, R. Gajendra Kumar, deputy superintendent with the Police Training College, lamented the lack of safety features on the boat. “After a sight-seeing trip to local attractions, we left for Ross Island in the afternoon. We were on our way back to Port Blair for the night. The boat had travelled for less than 15 minutes when it began to wobble. We insisted the boat crew give us life jackets, but they did not have any. The boat could carry not more than 30 people, but the staff had allowed 10 more people to get into it when it left Ross Island,” Mr. Kumar, a sub-inspector of the 1987 batch, said.

“It was over in a matter of minutes. The sea was not rough, but the boat began to wobble terribly and it capsized. I just cannot describe what happened after that. It was shattering to see my friends going down under the water. My wife and I and a few others desperately held on to a piece of wood protruding from our boat. We managed to stay afloat for one hour until help came.”

(With inputs from N. Ravikumar, K. Manikandan and V. Venkatasubramanian)