Had help reached in time, many would have survived, says one survivor

Twenty-one tourists drowned when a private tourist boat capsized in the sea off Port Blair on Sunday evening after a futile wait for help. Most passengers were from Kancheepuram in Tamil Nadu.

The passengers on board ‘Aqua Marine,’ which sunk a few metres off the harbour in Port Blair, were not given life jackets, R. Gajendra Kumar, one of the survivors and Deputy Superintendent of Police (Police Training College), Chennai, told The Hindu over phone.

“Even as we demanded life jackets, the boat operator said that all safety measures were in place and that there was no need to worry. The boat was carrying people far in excess of the permissible limit. Besides our group of 32 from Kancheepuram, there were some North Indian families that joined us in the last minute,” said Mr. Kumar, who survived the accident along with his wife.

The boat, carrying 46 passengers and three crew members, was on its way to North Bay from Ross Island, when it capsized around 4 p.m. Though the shore was close by, no help came for a long time.

“We could even see a defence vessel and other ships anchored along the harbour ... as I almost lost hope a boat operator came and dropped some life jackets. Some private divers rescued us,” Mr. Kumar said. Had life jackets been given or help come in time, many would have survived, he said.

Death toll

Inspector-General of Coast Guard and Regional Commander (Andaman and Nicobar Islands) V.S.R. Murthy confirmed that 21 people died, 27 were rescued and the fate of one was not known. “In less than an hour, we launched a helicopter and vessels to rescue the victims. We were able to pull out some from the sea and shift them to the hospital. It has been confirmed that 21 were brought dead and 11 were undergoing treatment.”

Earlier, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said 28 persons had died. Thirty-three of those on board were from Kancheepuram district.

Asked whether the boat sank due to inclement weather, Mr. Murthy said the weather was normal