The boat was sailing past the official deadline of 5pm when it sank around 7pm. Lack of light was hampering relief efforts, officials said, suggesting the toll could rise. While the exact number of riders is unclear, sources said the boat had “30 to 40” people.
According to sources, since it was a Sunday during the summer holidays, many of the passengers were children. At least three women and four children were reportedly among the dead.
PM Narendra Modi expressed deep shock at the tragedy and announced an ex gratia of Rs 2 lakh to the families of the deceased.
“Saddened by the loss of life due to the boat crash in Malappuram, Kerala,” Modi tweeted. CM Pinarayi Vijayan is expected to visit the site of the tragedy on Monday.
Tragic: Houseboat capsizes in Kerala, many feared dead
Tanur Municipality Chairman PP Shamudheen said the boat capsized at Thooval Theeram in Ottumbram where the Poorapuzha River joins the Arabian Sea.
“The exact number of passengers on the boat is not known. However, everyone in the area says it was heavily overloaded. He appears to have rolled over after losing his balance,” Shamsudheen told TOI.
Ports Minister V Abdurahman, who was coordinating the rescue operation, said the backwater in this area had heavy silt and rescuers were still fishing people out of the water.
At least six people were initially rescued and rushed to various hospitals in the area. A smaller boat first reached the spot where the accident occurred and rescued some passengers who were taken to hospitals in Tanur, Tirurangadi and other places. Sources said all hospitals in the area were kept on high alert with ventilator-equipped beds ready to treat victims who can be resuscitated. At around 10.30pm, rescuers were able to pull the boat ashore using ropes and the bodies were also recovered from the boat.
Kerala tourism director PB Nooh said challenges arise when new tourist destinations are developed as the department lacks resources to ensure that all tourism activities are carried out by licensed or trained individuals.
“The district disaster management authority meeting convened in February this year had warned of illegal boating operations along Bharathapuzha and Chaliyar… It warned of boating tragedies,” Nooh said.