An unusual but sudden spate of accidents involving houseboats has marked a blotch on the backwater tourism sector in Alappuzha just when the season was looking to pick up momentum and gain from what was Idukki’s loss due to the Mullaperiyar issue.
The accidents, which began in the first week of the new year, with a seemingly ordinary fire accident on one houseboat that was docked in the Punnamada Finishing Point, raised eyebrows the very next day when another houseboat leaving the Finishing Point with passengers caught fire. While the damage in the first accident was said to be “not major”, the owners of the boat in the second incident sped away with the vessel, not even lodging a complaint with the police. There were no casualties in both.
Just when the buzz over these died down, another houseboat caught fire on Friday last, this time at an odd hour in the night and ended with two foreign tourists suffering injuries, albeit minor ones while jumping off the burning vessel. This was in a remote anchoring spot and occurred after 10 p.m., with passengers on a late night boat service of the State Water Transport Department (SWTD) alerting the occupants of the houseboat.
Three days later, another accident was reported, this time however, with no fire angle in it. A houseboat collided with an SWTD boat near Kainakary. With none of the passengers suffering injuries and the houseboat owner agreeing to compensate the SWTD for the damages, the issue was settled.
The impact of the chain of accidents has been anxious enquiries from tourists who had booked cruises and though the houseboat operators are trying their best to assuage the fears, they admit that the issue could be a dampener on their business dreams.
“There was a flicker of hope for us when tourists spiking tourist spots in Idukki off their itinerary on account of the Mullaperiyar issue and heading to the backwaters. The New Year eve was perhaps one of the busiest for us in recent years and we were hoping for more, which is when these accidents have caused concern,” said one operator.
Jacob Samuel, president of the All Kerala Houseboat Owners’ Association, points out that this is the first time that such a chain of accidents have occurred. Still preferring to term the accidents as isolated incidents that should be played down in a region where around 900 houseboats operate, Mr. Samuel says that the Association is however gearing up to tackle the resultant tremors.
“We have to spend about Rs.49,000 for fire safety precautions alone if we have to get licenses. Since we cannot let that go wasted on account of a few accidents, we are joining hands with the Fire and Rescue department to train our staff to handle such fire accidents,” he said.
Informing that the anomaly of a majority of houseboats not having licenses because of the absence of Pollution Control certificates, which again was the fallout of the absence of a sewage treatment plant here, too would soon be addressed with a plant to be inaugurated in February, Mr. Samuel said efforts would be made towards ensuring that there would be no more accidents.