Safety audit of all boats ordered, SOP to be evolved
A day after 21 tourists died in a boat tragedy at Port Blair, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands administration on Monday ordered a detailed safety audit of all boats operating in and around the Union Territory.
Lt. General (Retd) A.K. Singh directed the authorities concerned to formulate a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) by roping in a professionally competent agency. The SOPs would lay emphasis on rescue and emergency response operations and also look into the aspect of having passengers insured. The safety audit would be completed within 30 days, sources in defence agencies said.
While a magisterial probe has been ordered into the sinking of ‘Aqua Marine’, preliminary enquiries revealed that the ill-fated tourist boat had life jackets on board. It sank while returning to the harbour from Ross Island. While 21 people were declared dead, 28 were rescued and the fate of Suresh of Tamil Nadu is not known yet.
The probe would unearth the circumstances that led to the tragic accident and also pinpoint violations, if any, with regard to safety and operational issues. The enquiry would also look into ways and means to strengthen the response mechanism, the sources said.
The boat had 32 tourists from Kancheepuram District in Tamil Nadu and another group of 10 tourists from Maharashtra, apart from two tourists each from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Kolkata. Among the 21 persons dead, 16 belonged to Tamil Nadu.
Senior officials of the Revenue Department reached Port Blair on Monday and coordinated with the local officials to facilitate travel of survivors and despatch of bodies. After registering a case under Section 304 (Culpable homicide not amounting to murder) of IPC, investigators detained the crew of the boat for questioning. Police were likely to arrest the crew on charges of non-bailable offences, the sources quoting an official statement said.
Meanwhile, Inspector-General of Coast Guard and Regional Commander (Andaman and Nicobar Islands) V.S.R. Murthy told The Hindu that an early morning helicopter sprite had sighted two bodies floating in the sea. However, they could not be traced by marine commandos who reached the spot by boats.
“Though it is believed that one passenger is missing, we don’t have the exact number of tourists who were on the boat. We are going by what the bait operator is claiming...search operations are continuing in the area,” Mr. Murthy said.