38 dead as tourist boat capsizes in Godavari

Rajahmundry: In one of the worst boat tragedies in the country, at least 38 people were feared dead in Andhra Pradesh after a private ferry carrying tourists to the picturesque Papikonda hills on Sunday afternoon capsized midstream in Godavari. The boat operator had taken the tourists on the joy ride despite a ban in place as the Godavari was in spate.
Eight bodies had been fished out till last reports while 26 were rescued from the site of the tragedy in Kuchuluru village of East Godavari, according to police and eyewitnesses.
There were 72 on board Royal Vashistha, which was moving against the current, including 9 crew members. Telangana accounted for 37 on the boat, with 22 from Hyderabad, 14 from Warangal and 1 from Suryapet. The rest 35 were from AP.
Among the list of survivors 7 were from Hyderabad, 5 from Warangal, 1 from Suryapet in Telangana, while from AP 1 was from Vizag, 1 from Tirupati and 4 from Krishna.
Rescue teams were looking for survivors using speed boats and a helicopter, with powerful torches being deployed to continue the the rescue operation in the night. The bodies were yet to be identified and shifted to Rajahmundry government hospital. AP CM Jaganmohan would be visiting the spot on Monday.
“The boat turned aside and the crew directed the occupants not to crowd at one place. As water began entering the launch, I distributed life jackets to everyone but soon the boat overturned,” Suresh, a survivor said, adding: “All those with life jackets were saved by villagers who were on the banks.”
None of the bodies fished out had life jackets on them, indicating that only those who worn them were saved. Survivors said that some had taken off the jackets as it was too hot. The two drivers on the ill-fated ferry also drowned.
The tourists from various parts of the two Telugu states had boarded the boat at Gandi Pochamma temple jetty point and had breakfast at a Dindi village. They were proceeding to Perantalapalle, a popular tourist spot when the boat capsized.
The accident occurred when people in the double-decker launch were moving from the lower deck to the upper deck, apparently resulting in imbalance in view of heavy current in the Godavari.
Villagers on the river banks rushed in with fishing boats and rescued 26 tourists.
Tourism minister Avanti Srinivas said the boat neither had a licence nor permission. “Danger warning signal one is in place at Rajahmundry. There is no permission for joy rides on boats,” he told the waiting media.
Durgam Madhulatha, a survivor who is recuperating in hospital, said her husband was missing. “All was well till the lunch time. I was rescued by fishermen,” she said.
Boat owner Venkata Ramana claimed that the launch had 150 life jackets. It is not clear if he secured permission from the local control room as a state government order issued in 2017 makes it mandatory to take permission.
About five lakh cusecs is being discharged into the sea with heavy inflows from the upper reaches of the river. The accident spot is a few km away in the upstream of the upcoming Polavaram dam, where 32 villages in the area will be submerged once the dam is ready. The site of the mishap in Devipatnam had witnessed three floods this season, is very deep with protruding appendages of the eastern ghats and prone to mishaps. This is the second worst tragedy in Godavari after the boat capsize in 1964 when 60 people had drowned.
Chief minister YS Jaganmohan Reddy, who reviewed the relief and rescue operations, announced ex-gratia of Rs 10 lakh each to the kin of the deceased while his Telangana counterpart K Chandrasekhar Rao announced Rs 5 lakh each as ex gratia. Following Sunday’s tragedy, the state government ordered suspension of boating operations in the river.

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