16 killed, eight missing as boat capsizes

The boat, which has a capacity of 30, was ferrying 40 passengers from Bhavani Island to Pavithra Sangamam when it overturned at 5.20 pm.
) Rescue operations at the scene of the tragedy in Pavithra Sangamam near Vijayawada on Sunday; rescue workers light up the spot to locate survivors
) Rescue operations at the scene of the tragedy in Pavithra Sangamam near Vijayawada on Sunday; rescue workers light up the spot to locate survivors

The boat, which has a capacity of 30, was ferrying 40 passengers from Bhavani Island to Pavithra Sangamam when it overturned at 5.20 pm. 45 SDRF, 60 NDRF and another 60 Fire Department personnel deployed. Crucial minutes lost as they could reach spot only at 6 pm. 17 of 40 onboard rescued; most of the victims from Ongole; govt announces J5 lakh ex gratia for bereaved families, orders enquiry into incident

VIJAYAWADA: Sixteen tourists, including seven women, died while 8 others went missing and 17 were rescued after a boat capsized at the Pavithra Sangamam, where Godavari waters join the Krishna near Ibrahimpatnam about 20 km from here on Sunday evening. The boat, which has a capacity of about 30, was ferrying 40 passengers from Bhavani Island, a tourist hotspot, to Pavithra Sangamam when it overturned.

Most of the passengers were from Ongole Walkers Club in Prakasam district. They were part of a 72-member group on an excursion to the Pavithra Sangamam Ghat and were on way to witness the Krishna Haarathi near Pavithra Sangamam. K Haribabu, a native of Ongole and part of the group, who made it alive, told TNIE, “We don’t know what happened... we would have reached Pavithra Sangamam in a few minutes. The boat turned turtle suddenly while the driver was taking a turn. Some of us swam ashore but several others were trapped under the boat.”

The police said all the dead were from Ongole. Walkers Club president S Koteswara Rao and his wife Venkayamma were among the victims. The boat left Punnami Ghat and went to Bhavani Island from where it set off for Pavitra Sangamam. The accident occurred around 5.20 pm. Unfortunately for the passengers, no expert swimmers were ashore at the time of the incident. Hearing their screams, some of those ashore who could swim went in but were forced to return due to the strong current.

The district administration rushed two teams of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) comprising 30 members each, but they could reach the spot only around 6 pm. When reports last came in, 45 members of the State Disaster Response Force as well as 60 members of the Fire Department joined the rescue operation.

Deputy Chief Minister China Rajappa, who rushed to the spot, confirmed to the media that Simple Watersports, a private boating service which owns the boat, had no licence to operate.“We have ordered an enquiry. This is the first time that the particular boat operated on the route from Bhavani Island to Pavithra Sangamam. The company used to operate boats between Punnami Ghat and Bhavani Island.” But, Simple Water Sports told TNIE the boat that capsized belonged to a company named River Boating. However, Tourism Minister Akhila Priya named the company and said a probe had been ordered.
One of the boat operator’s staff revealed that the boat had undergone repairs in Kakinada recently.

“Today is its first trial run after the repairs... we were operating for the last four months,” he said. No case has been registered against the boat operator. When contacted, Subramanyam, CEO of the Simple Water Sports, said that the capacity of the boat was 30 and admitted that they did not have enough life jackets. He further clarified that the boat in question was operated by another company, not Simple Watersports. “We suspect the accident may have been caused while the boat was negotiating a whirlpool. We have a licence to operate,”  he asserted, but did not comment on overcrowding and repairs.
Narrating the sequence of events, Haribabu, a survivor, said they had asked for life jackets. “The driver told us it wasn’t necessary as the journey would be a short one.” It is not clear if the driver survived.

Even as the rescue operations were on, Opposition YSRC leader K Parthasarathy and State Congress president Raghuveera Reddy arrived on the spot and consoled the bereaved families. Their followers raised slogans against Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and Water Resources Minister Devineni Umamaheswara Rao over the poor facilities, maintenance and complete absence of expert swimmers at the ghat. TDP and YSRC leaders argued leading to tension amid the tragedy. Police rushed teams to disperse the warring groups.

Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu, who is in Kerala, rang up District Collector Lakshmikantham and directed his ministerial colleagues to expedite the rescue operations. He also held a teleconference late in the night with ministers and officials to take stock of the situation.

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