Even as a magisterial inquiry is under way into the boat capsize, in which 22 tourists got killed near the Phoenix Bay Jetty in the Andamans in late January, Lieutenant-General (retd.) Ajay Kumar Singh, Lieutenant-Governor of the Union Territory, on Saturday said preliminary reports indicated that callousness and greed of the operator caused the accident.
The boat was loaded beyond capacity, he said at an interaction with the media at the Raj Niwas. The boat was cleared to carry just 30 passengers, but it was ferrying over 50 when it went down. The operator failed to maintain the list of people on board and had only the number. The dead were identified with the help of survivors, he said.
Meanwhile, naval sources involved in salvaging the vessel from under 25 metres, nearly 600 metres away from the shore, told The Hindu that the boat, m.v. Aqua Marine, did not have any breach on its surface, an indication that it sank because of overload. Unused life jackets were spotted inside the boat when it was hauled up. The boat was handed over to the civil administration, they said.
Mr. Singh said a series of stringent measures was being put in place to avert similar tragedies. A safety audit of all private boats operating in the island chain was ordered; unserviceable ones would be impounded. Crew training was another area of focus. He said formation of an enforcement agency, comprising the police and tourism and shipping personnel, was under consideration. Other options like pre-paid ticketing to avoid crowds and SOS kiosks with paramedical support were also being considered.
While limited boat operations were resumed to popular destinations like Havelock, services to Ross Island and Wandoor Beach would be resumed shortly.
Pointing to tourism and fisheries as the major sectors with potential for growth of the archipelago, he said the Veer Savarkar International Airport at Port Blair would have night landing facility in six months, with stopover for international flights. As many as 96 international flights passed over Port Blair daily. Talks were under way with the Ministry of Civil Aviation for establishing another airport, for which the foundation would be laid soon.
Mr. Singh said the administration placed a special emphasis on the protection and hassle-free existence of the island chain’s six vulnerable tribal groups. On reopening the Great Andaman Trunk Road with nearly 15,000 settlers on either side, on the orders of the Supreme Court, stringent measures were adopted to ensure that the Jarawas, one of the tribes, did not face any harassment.