The owner of the overcrowded boat carrying 51 tourists which capsized in the Andaman and Nicobar islands was among the three persons detained today even as a Union Minister said there were no life jackets and divers on board the vessel.
Conflicting claims were also made on the response to yesterday's mishap in which 21 people were killed with eyewitnessses saying there was a delay in the arrival of the marine rescue team while the local administration asserted rescue efforts were mounted as soon as the inputs came in.
The eyewitnesses also claimed they heard a blast before the boat 'Aqua Marine' capsized on the Andamans sea near Port Blair. The boat had a capacity to carry only around 25 people, official sources said. A magisterial inquiry by Additional District Magistrate (South Andaman) has been ordered by Lt Gen(retd) A K Singh, Lieutenant Governor of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The probe will establish the exact cause and also pinpoint if there was violation of safety guidelines and responsibility will be fixed, Singh said. The owner of the boat and two other persons were detained and being questioned and an FIR has been lodged against them, Singh said, adding they are likely to be charged under Section 304 IPC (culpable homicide not amounting to murder).
Six more people were plucked from the waters last night taking to 29 the total number of people who were rescued. The victims included eight men and 13 women, P Johar, Deputy Commissioner, South Andaman district said. Of the dead, 16 were from Tamil Nadu, three from Maharashtra, and one each from West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. All the 16 victims from Tamil Nadu were from the temple town of Kanchipuram.
A total of 32 tourists from Kanchipuram were on the ill-fated boat. One person was still missing and feared dead while all the bodies had been identified and sent back to Chennai and other places where they hailed from, sources in the Andaman and Nicobar administration said. "I came to know from reports that there were no life jackets in the boat and no divers to rescue the people. There was no guard in the boat," V Narayanasamy, Minister of State in the Prime Minister's Office, said terming the incident as "sad" and "unfortunate". He also demanded a thorough inquiry into the tragedy.
Eyewitnesses told PTI that before the boat capsized, they heard the sound of a blast. Fishermen fishing nearby also heard the sound and immediately rushed to the scene, the eyewitnesses said. They alleged that there was about an hour's delay before the marine rescue team could reach the spot. But Singh said, "rescue operations and efforts were mounted as soon as the inputs came in. Andaman police joined the rescue operations with Coast Guard and navy."