The rescue boats are used during flood time in Kerala when road transport becomes impossible and stranded people need to be taken to safety.

A woman is taken on a stretcher to a white boat by three men and a woman all wearing masks
Coronavirus Coronavirus Sunday, August 16, 2020 - 19:50

An hour past midnight, Santhosh Kumar’s phone began to ring. Someone had dialled the emergency ambulance number 108 and it got diverted to Santhosh, a unit officer of the vigilance squad, handling rescue boats in Alappuzha. A person in Ambedkar Jetty had to be taken to the hospital immediately. They were showing severe symptoms of COVID-19. One of the five rescue boats of the Kerala Water Transport Department, assigned for ambulance services, rushed to the jetty with three persons covered in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and took the patient to the hospital.

“These ambulance boats must have saved several hundreds of lives in the past few months,” says Shaji V Nair, director of State Water Transport Department.

The rescue boats are used during flood time in Kerala when road transport becomes impossible and stranded people need to be taken to safety. Last year, they also began to be used as an ambulance service when sick people had no other way of getting medical care.

“This year we have deployed two rescue boats just for ambulance service so that one could be used for COVID-19 patients and the second boat can be used for the other patients. They run for 24 hours. Though it was started as a service for monsoon time when the roads were flooded, we have now deployed a rescue boat to work at all times. This is because there are many who live in the interior regions and depend on boats to reach hospitals. Once the regular boats stop service at 10 pm, they’d have no other way to go out,” says Shaji.

He cites the example of Perumbalam Island in Alappuzha, where more than 25,000 people live and public transport is not yet available. People depend on auto-rickshaws for travelling to places. The rescue boats are a great blessing to them, Shaji says.

The five rescue boats are in Alappuzha, Panavally, Vaikkom, Muhamma and Ernakulam. Out of these, four are sometimes used for ambulance services, says Santhosh Kumar. “Since the pandemic outbreak, the boats have been used for helping patients reach hospitals. One of these runs in the Kuttanad region, which is always one of the most flooded areas in the state. We take patients to the taluk hospitals in Pulinkunnu, Kavalam, Kuppapuram and Kainakary. Once we bring them to the nearest shore, the 108 ambulances running on the road would take over. In the boat deployed for COVID-19, there is a driver and two lackeys, who have been trained by the health department to handle the patients. They will be in PPE kits and after each boat service, all of them are sprayed with disinfectants,” Santhosh says.

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Also read: How a boat journey in the mid-1960s started Kerala’s Gulf Boom

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