Malappuram (Kerala): A day after the tragic tourist boat accident that claimed the lives of 22 people including women and children, the Kerala government on Monday announced a judicial probe into the matter and decided to give a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to the kin of the deceased.
The boat capsized near an estuary close to the Thoovaltheeram beach in Tanur area around 7.30 pm on Sunday.
According to district officials, 15 of the deceased are minor.
Tanur police said a case was registered on Sunday itself against the owner of the boat, which reportedly did not have a licence to function. The owner, who was absconding, was apprehended by the police in Kozhikode today.
The State Human Rights Commission (SHRC) also took a suo motu (on its own) case based on media reports.
Addressing the media here after visiting Tirurangandi Taluk hospital and meeting the Kunnummal family that lost 11 members, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan termed the accident a “tragedy” and said the government would bear the treatment expenses of those receiving treatment.
Vijayan announced the probe and a compensation of Rs 10 lakh to be given to the families of each of those who died in the boat capsized after an all-party meeting held at Tanur in which senior opposition leaders also participated,.
“The all-party meeting has decided on a judicial inquiry in this matter. The probe will cover technical issues related to the boat’s safety, among other matters. A judicial commission comprising technical experts will be formed. A special investigation team of the Kerala police will also probe the matter,” Vijayan told the media.
The Chief Minister said the government had earlier set up a safety protocol for tourist boats and would examine whether the laid down protocols were followed or not in connection with the incident.
He also informed the media that two out of the 10 people admitted to the hospital had been discharged, and currently there were eight under treatment.
The statements of the survivors, bystanders, and local residents of the area reveal that the vessel was a fishing boat that was converted into a recreational one, it did not have a licence to offer boating services, it lacked sufficient safety equipment like life jackets, and the same was not provided to passengers while the boat was filled beyond capacity.
Leader of Opposition in the Assembly and senior Congress leader V D Satheesan, who visited the accident site and the homes of those who died in the tragedy, termed it a “man-made disaster”.
BJP state president K Surendran too spoke along similar lines and also demanded the resignation of Tourism Minister P A Mohamed Riyas, according to a statement issued by his party, and alleged that the tragedy occurred due to the negligence of the state government.
After monitoring the situation of those under treatment, Health Minister Veena George said the government will provide support and counselling to the victims’ families.
She said child counsellors will be engaged to help the children overcome the trauma of the accident.
Meanwhile, the Southern Naval Command in Kochi, upon request from the Kerala government, deployed a helicopter with an aircrew diver to Poorapuzha today, along with three Indian Navy diving teams comprising 15 divers carrying with them necessary diving sets, gear and equipment.
The Coast Guard Disaster Relief Team from Beypore station also joined the rescue operations along with the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), fire and rescue team, and local populace in providing emergency first-aid to the casualties, the Navy said in a release.
The team continuously monitored the situation and continued to provide support to civilian authorities. The officials from Indian Coast Guard Station, Beypore, met district officials for the purpose of coordinating further operations. The ICG has also deployed Indian Coast Guard Ship C-144 off Tanur, and ICG Chetak is kept on standby for meeting further requirements, the Navy release said.
Local residents said the boat was packed beyond its capacity of 20 persons and that its operators did not heed to the warning of onlookers that the vessel was tilting to one side.
“It was a tragedy which was invited. It could have been avoided if the boat was not overcrowded or if it had not been operated beyond the permissible time. When the boat reached a bend in the river, it overturned as it was already tilting to one side,” local residents said.
Earlier in the day, Minister Rajan said that seven teams, including the NDRF, Indian Coast Guard, fire services, the Navy and local people were involved in the search and rescue mission.
“The deaths of 22 people have been confirmed. We have identified that there were 37 people on the vessel. Five of them swam to safety yesterday. It was a private boat, and there is no official count of passengers,” Rajan said.
The state government announced a day of mourning on Monday and cancelled all official events as a mark of respect to those who lost their lives in the accident.