A small fishing boat, probably fit for catching crabs and anchovies in shallow waters, is anything but a substitute for a fully-equipped, high-speed life boat that should be ideally used for search and rescue operations in the Arabian Sea.
On Saturday evening, this correspondent spotted such a boat, hired by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), and maneuvered by three lifeguards to oversee the Ganpati immersion at Juhu beach.
As the tide ebbed, it was with considerable effort that the boat, which had no life-saving equipment on board, was dragged into the sea, as it violently rolled and pitched in the tide.
President of the Juhu Beach Lifeguard Association Neville David explained that the canoe-like shape of the fishing boat restricted its movement. “For search and rescue operations, inflatable, high-speed boats are apt for a smooth glide from the sandy beach to the sea.
Since it does not dig deep into the sand, it becomes easy to re-launch them with minimum effort.”
Ganesh Shinde, who claimed to be the owner of the boat, admitted that he had leased three of his fishing boats to the BMC for search and rescue operations.
“I have fitted my boats with high-speed engines and was awarded the contract, after a tendering process,” he said, without divulging the remuneration that he received for the same.
Municipal Councilor Dilip Patel from Juhu claimed that he was aware that lifeguards in the city were ill-equipped to carry out efficient search and rescue operations.
“A person can drown within a matter of seconds if h/she is caught in a strong undercurrent. A team of life guards once told me that their job was reduced to bringing back dead bodies, as by the time they reached to rescue someone, it was usually too late,” said Patel.
Patel, who claimed to be unaware of the cost incurred by BMC for hiring fishing vessels, said that he was trying to ensure that the civic body procures high-end rescue boats and other life-saving equipments.
Government appointed lifeguards
Manohar Shetty, head lifeguard at Juhu beach, said that apart from an 11-member staff, there were 16 security guards, 10 personnel from Civil Defense and 15 other members from Fire Brigade and Disaster management for safety measures at Juhu Beach.
Surprisingly, the BMC lifeguards, certainly seem to be putting up a valiant effort with barely three old binoculars, six rings and four rescue tubes. Ironically a yellow lifebuoy, capable of dragging multiple victims from the sea, which is their prized possession, was a gift from an Australian tourist, couple of years back and not provided by the BMC.