Tamil Nadu has topped the number of deaths (191) due to drowning at sea since January this year. People in the age group of 15-25 years have emerged the most vulnerable. In Chennai, 63 persons drowned in the Marina, Elliots and other beaches. As many as 550 cases of drowning were registered in the last three years and the victims include some fishermen.
Though the Indian Coast Guard has a toll-free number (1554) connected to the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) that can launch search operations using helicopters or marine commandos within minutes, this is barely used. The Coastal Security Group (CSG) also has a toll-free number (1093) and a dedicated wireless communication network linking its 42 Marine Police stations.
“These two toll-free numbers are not reachable by most mobile networks owing to operational or technical reasons. On their part, the survivors/witnesses take a lot of time before alerting the police or other agencies. By the time the information reaches the MRCC or CSG control room, valuable time is lost. On most occasions, rescuers find it hard to even locate the bodies,” a senior police official told The Hindu on Friday.
The Coast Guard has helicopters stationed at Chennai Airport. “On information, our first helicopter can reach a disturbed area (in and around Chennai) within 15 minutes. But almost three to four hours is lost by the time we get the alert on many occasions,” Inspector-General and Commander Coast Guard (Region-East) S.P. Sharma said. In a bid to expedite rescue operations at sea, the CSG has procured ‘Jet Ski’ water scooters. “A batch of 20 marine police personnel is undergoing training on diving and other rescue operations. We will be stationing the scooters one each at the Marina and Elliots beaches in Chennai,” Additional Director-General of Police (CSG) C. Sylendra Babu said.
“Unless rescuers are at the spot, it will be very difficult to save people in distress at sea”, he said.