Mumbai: Upmarket boat snaps mid-journey on Madh island, two residents nearly-drown
Two Madh residents narrate their ordeal after upmarket boat used by Bollywood stars snaps mid-journey, as deafening silence and dismissive attitude compound their watery trauma
It has been close to a week since two Madh Island residents almost drowned while going to Versova on a boat but authorities have chosen to stay mum regarding the incident instead of helping the residents retrieve the precious belongings they lost in the water and treating it as a lesson in checking the quality of the boats that run to and from the island.
The incident occurred on June 15, around 4 pm, when Narendra Kumar, 44, and Sameer Tendolkar, 45, residents of the upscale Raheja Exotica on Madh Island, took a ferry to Versova. The boat they took was a 15-seater which charges R10 for the short ride. It was one of the two smaller and supposedly better boats that run on the same route. The bigger boats charge R5 per ride.
The boat tilted after the cylinder broke
These boats are also used by Bollywood stars when are shooting at Madh Island. They routinely take the entire ferry because of their entourage. "We were not stars, just ordinary mortals," said Kumar, who is a scriptwriter, adding, "Tendolkar was with me on the boat and there were two crew members — a navigator and his helper. Crossing from Madh to Versova takes barely five minutes. But just two minutes into the crossing, we heard two distinct snapping sounds. The pipe-like structures below this pontoon had broken away. Slowly, the boat started to tilt. It was terrifying. Before I knew it, the water was till my chin." Kumar caught hold of a life jacket, while Tendolkar managed to grab a life-saving flotation tube. Both were in the water. Neither knew how to swim.
Kumar said, "The crew was not trained in emergency response. They did not even shout at us to grab some device as the boat was sinking. The navigator was swimming expertly in the water and the helper, when I last saw him, was clinging to the wreckage. I had got hold of Tendolkar and we were floating." Soon a bigger ferry came along. "There was a lot of shouting and hollering and people throwing ropes and tubes at us, but we were floating. Somehow, we were saved because of our 'bandargiri'," said Kumar.
Tendolkar, who designs applications for mobile phones, said, "I had no time to think; within five seconds, I was in the water. The boat broke in the water. I was floating holding a tube, and was finally rescued. It was much later, when I was processing this very lucky escape, that I thought, what if there were old persons or children on board? How would they have escaped? What if parts of the boat had fallen on somebody?" Locals said, "Although the ride is only about four minutes, the water is very deep and there are strong currents at times."
Kumar said, "After we clambered onto a boat that came for our rescue, drenched in the foul-smelling water, we went to give a statement to the office of the Maharashtra Maritime Board office in Versova Bandar (mid-day has a copy). It was hours later that we both went home. Throughout, the local community tried to play down the incident, simply asking us whether we were all okay. Is everything okay now?" Tendolkar said, "This was just such a fortunate escape."
The survivors being rescued, a tube being thrown to them
An angry Kumar said, "It has been nearly a week. I was in mental trauma for three days after this near-drowning. There has been no official response or statement from anybody post this. Local buzz says that 'investigations are on'. What are these investigations and why are the survivors not being called to state what happened? I lost my laptop, mobile phone and most importantly, a diary containing script and dialogues I'd written for a project, in the water. Who is going to replace those? Has there been any official acknowledgement?"
A wary Tendolkar said he had nothing more to say but Kumar asked angrily, "What if he had not survived this mishap? Even after the incident, shockingly, there was an attempt to cover this up. An initial small media report simply said that two men fell overboard; this is untrue. The boat broke." A Madh resident said on the condition of anonymity, "Social media is a double-edged sword. While it can be used to spread false news, nothing can be hidden any longer. There was so much mobile phone footage of the boat breaking; pictures also surfaced of the wreckage in the water, so the truth is bound to be out."
This boat service is a lifeline for Raheja Exotica residents to the main land. In fact, many residents claim these smaller boats were from Raheja, a charge the company flatly denied. Residents also added that the boat service is part of a Raheja corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative. A statement by Raheja Universal said, "The ferry services across Madh to Versova are managed and provided by locals."
When shown a copy of a June 2, 2015 circular, on a Raheja Universal letterhead, addressed to residents/owners of Raheja Exotica facilities, which states in the first line: 'We will be starting our ferry service from June 3, 2015' and goes on to cite ticket prices, Raheja Universal remained steadfast in denial. They responded saying, "This was an intimation of the services started by a local sanstha."
Now, one of these boats is broken while the other is not operational, forcing residents to stand in queues for as long as 40 minutes during peak hours for the regular ferry. When mid-day witnessed the ordinary ferry, the way to the jetty on the Versova side was filthy and getting into these boats was precarious. These ferries also carried motorbikes, along with people. A Madh resident said, "We are in a slumber zone. The current incident should serve as a wake-up call. Yet, it will only be a matter of time before we go to sleep once again and the familiar shrugging of the shoulders and passing the buck begins."
Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor Khan. Pic/Satej Shinde
The boat service is used by stars who have to access Madh Island for shoots. Most of them book the entire boat, like Akshay Kumar and Kareena Kapoor Khan, who were spotted taking the ferry in April while shooting their movie Good News on Madh Island.
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