One person drowned after a boat carrying 25 people, including a couple of Maharashtra government officials, capsized in the Arabian Sea off the Mumbai coast on Wednesday. The boat was heading towards the proposed site for the Shivaji memorial.
Initially, reports said that the boat, ‘MRM1’, capsized as it hit an underwater rock while making its way towards the Shivaji memorial site, but some other theories have been floated:
Mumbai Mirror correspondent Yogesh Naik, who was on the boat belonging to West Coast Marine Yacht Services India, said the boat was overloaded beyond its capacity of 20 persons. In his account, Naik said despite the captain’s refusal to ferry, some political workers convinced him once six people got off. The boat was still over capacity and as it made its way towards the site, it hit a submerged rock.
As water gushed in and passengers panicked, the crew ran out of safety jackets. When a rescue boat arrived, panicked passengers rushed to one side, tilting the boat which eventually capsized. While many who were thrown into the sea were rescued by the crew and the response teams, Naik said Pawar got trapped in the cabin. By the time authorities reached, it was too late.
According to NDTV, two rescue boats had been dispatched to reach MRM1 but confusion prevailed as there was no list of crew or passengers available and it was not clear if passengers on board were wearing safety jackets. Some eye-witnesses also claimed that before it hit a submerged rock, the pilot of the boat had lost the way and it had been drifting for more than an hour. Chairperson of the Shivaji memorial committee Vinayak Mete, who was on the other boat in the entourage, told NDTV the boat was owned by the Maharashtra government.
However according to Hindustan Times, it was a private speedboat arranged at the last moment that was used to ferry the political workers and media personnel to the memorial site. An official of the Mumbai Port Trust, which issues permissions for boats and ferries to operate from Gateway of India, was quoted by the newspaper as saying ‘MRM1’ was not given permission to sail. The official further added that the capsized boat did not have the vessel traffic system (VPS), which helps it to be located in the sea.
Another senior MbPT official told Hindustan Times the driver of the capsized boat should not have avoided the route near the Prongs Reef, which is generally rocky and demarcated route should have been followed.
DNA quoted a senior Public Works Department official who admitted that despite there being a government function, a recce of the venue was not done and trials supervised by officers and personnel from the Coast Guard and Indian Navy were not conducted. According to the newspaper, the captain of the boat was not qualified and had also compromised with the navigation plan. A retired Coast Guard officer was quoted as saying that the programme should not have been organised during low tide.
Mid-Day reported that MLC Jayant Patil, whose shipping company sent its boats to rescue and ferry passengers of MRM1, questioned the use of a fibre boat to wade through rocky waters. He asserted that fibre boats can be used in creeks but stronger boats are required for tougher waterways.
Besides permission and safety issues with the boat and the, there was confusion over distress calls and emergency protocol at sea. The Indian Express reported that the Coast Guard received its first alert from a journalist on board the vessel and the authority was not aware if the boat had relevant transmission system to alert its distress and be seen on their systems. There was no clarity on which vessel needed assistance and a clear picture emerged later when Chetak helicopters were dispatched and they then sent images of the vessel to the Coast Guard.
During the course of the rescue operation, the Coast Guard prematurely announced that all passengers were safe and it was later learnt that a passenger, Siddharth Pawar, was missing. According to The Indian Express, there is no clarity among most authorities involved regarding the who sent the distress call and when it was received.
Updated Date: Oct 26, 2018 19:53:27 IST