A boat with 61 people onboard capsized in the Godavari River in East Godavari district on Sunday afternoon. The incident took place near Kachaluru of Devipatnam mandal when the boat, which was ferrying towards the Pappi Hills, tried making a narrow turn. At least 11 people have died including the drivers of the boat, and 24 passengers have been rescued so far by the NDRF teams and the Kachaluru villagers. Several passengers are missing.
The government had suspended boat services to Pappi Hills for a month earlier owing to heavy inflow of water into the Godavari. However, the services resumed a few days back as the water levels started receding. The boat, Royal Vashishta, had 61 people on board, including 50 tourists and 11 crew members. The boat is reportedly owned by a man named Kodutla Venkata Ramana. The area around Kachaluru Mandal is known to have a lot of steep curves and whirlpools and the captain has to be careful while steering the boat. According to the New Indian Express, the boat had a capacity of 50 passengers and the boat authorities claim that 150 life jackets were made available to the passengers.
Speaking to media, one of the survivors said, "The boat started tilting to one side and overturned. Some of us started jumping off the boat. Some of us went one the top of toppled boat. It again sarted tilting. We held on to whatever we could. Meanwhile one other boat came. Otherwise it would have been difficult. I am from Warangal. 14 of us came togethe. Only 5 are here now."
While some of the tourists swam to the Tutukunta Village nearby, around 24 passengers have been rescued by the two NDRF teams deployed. Few of the passengers, who were drifting, were also saved by the Kachaluru residents.
Around 22 of the passengers are reportedly from Hyderabad, 9 from Warangal and others from Vijayawada. Police are setting up communication networks around Kachaluru village in order to ease the rescue operation.
Royal Vashishta didnâ€™t have permission from the tourism department but had permission from the Kakinada port authorities, tourism minister Muthamsetty Srinivasa Rao said while speaking to the media. Home minister M Sucharita has reportedly said that action will be taken against the officials who had given permission for the boat.
Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Jagan Mohan Reddy has ordered immediate suspension of licenses of all boats operating in the Godavari River. Two boats of the state tourism department, a chopper along with ministers and MLAs have been directed for the rescue operations.
Boat tragedies have become a regular occurrence in the Godavari River, with many of the boats being operated without licenses. Last year, in a similar tragedy where 20 people had lost lives, the then opposition leader Jagan Mohan Reddy had called it Sarkari Hatyalu or government murders and had demanded an ex-gratia of Rs 25 lakh for each victim.