Life jackets on the boat that sank off the Andaman and Nicobar islands Sunday, killing at least 21 people, were never distributed among the tourists on board.
Tamil Nadu police officer Gyanendran, who was on the boat with wife, has been made a prime witness in the case and is helping the district administration in the investigation. He told the police the boat operators did not educate the tourists about life jackets or any other safety measures.
In a preliminary report submitted to the Ministry of Home Affairs, the administration has said overcrowding or non-compliance with safety measures might have sunk the boat going from Ross Island to North Bay. The exact cause, however, is yet to be ascertained.
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An official said the boat, Aqua Marine, had a capacity of 25 people but was carrying 45. The district administration had recovered 21 bodies till Monday and one person was missing.
“A magisterial inquiry is under way but preliminary information is that none of the tourists was aware of life jackets, which were stacked in the deck,” said P Jawahar, Deputy Commissioner (South Andaman).
Police have arrested boat operator Shekhar and said its owner Jaya would also be questioned. The administration never approached the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team stationed at Port Blair. “We have a 50-member NDRF team at Port Blair but they were never approached for rescue,” said M Sashidhar Reddy, Vice-Chairman, National Disaster Management Authority. Jawahar said they were already taking the help of Coast Guard and Navy. “The Tamil Nadu DSP (Gyanendran) has helped us in the investigation so far, even identifying bodies,” he said.
Lt Gen (retd) A K Singh, Lieutenant Governor of the islands, has ordered an inquiry by Additional District Magistrate (South Andaman).
Eyewitnesses claimed there was a delay in arrival of the marine rescue team. They also claimed they heard a blast before the boat capsized in the Andaman sea near Port Blair. Fishermen nearby also heard the blast and rushed to the scene, they said. Lt Gen (retd) A K Singh, however, said: “Rescue operations and efforts were mounted as soon as inputs came in. The Andaman police joined the rescue with Coast Guard and Navy.”
He said the boat owner and two others had been detained and an FIR lodged against them. Singh said they were likely to be charged for culpable homicide not amounting to murder).
The victims include eight men and 13 women. Of the dead, 16 are from Tamil Nadu, three from Maharashtra and one each from West Bengal and UP. All the 16 victims from Tamil Nadu belong to Kanchipuram.
With PTI inputs