Tourist safety goes for a toss on Kerala's famed backwaters

Tourist boats
Safety protocols have been given the short shrift by boat owners as proved by recurring mishaps. Representative image/File Photo

Backwater tourism in Kerala is famed with houseboat ride a major tourist attraction. Boat rides lasting a few minutes to hours or even days are popular among domestic and overseas tourists.

Despite being a money-spinner, safety protocols have been given the short shrift by boat owners as proved by recurring mishaps, some even proving to be tragic. Last Sunday 22 lives were lost as a poorly retrofitted houseboat sank at an estuary in Tanur in Malappuram district.

The situation in other districts of the state also points to a lurking danger.

In Thiruvananthapuram district there are over 30 tourist and passenger boats at the Hawa and Grove beaches in Kovalam. Accidents are frequent at this prime tourist destination. Motor boat cruising at high speed over the waves increases the risk of mishaps. Many of the over 350 boats at Poovar do not have official documents. Migrant workers, who do not even know how to swim, are functioning as pilots of these boats. It has been found that many of the boats that are used by private resorts do not possess the mandatory licence.

In Kollam district registration of boats was made mandatory following the death of a housewife after a country boat capsized at Sambranikodi Thuruthu. The licences for boats and drivers are issued after an inspection by a technical committee. However, no steps have been taken to prevent the operation of tourist boats that flout security norms. Most of the country boats operating in the Sasthamkotta Lake do not have the necessary safety arrangements.

In Pathanamthitta district the safety features are nominal in the boats operating in the reservoirs of the Sabarigiri Hydel Project. The only safety equipment available is the life jacket. Even vehicle transport facilities are sparse in the area where even mobile phone signals are weak.

In Alappuzha district very few boats have the mandatory documents. Only three vessels have all the required documents, said an official. This was revealed in a joint inspection carried out by the departments of ports, tourism and the police in the houseboats at Punnamada Lake in the wake of the Tanur tragedy.

Shockingly, government departments have no clue on the number of boats operating in Kottayam district. Boats were brought to Kumarakom from Alappuzha for the G20 Summit recently after an inspection found that the vessels in the famous tourist village had poor safety standards.

Over 70 tourist boats operate from Marine Drive in Ernakulam, but many of them do not have the sufficient number of life jackets. Often boat operators conduct services after nightfall though it is against the rules. The cap on the maximum number of passengers is also overlooked.

In Kozhikode district there are around 20 shikaras (a light, flat-bottomed houseboat) at Akalapuzha, but many of them do not comply with security regulations. The boat services here were stopped after a youth died in a fibre boat capsize last September. However, some private persons are conducting pedal boat services surreptitiously near parks at many stretches along the Kuttiady river.

In Kasaragod district it has been found boat passengers at Kottapuram in Neeleswaram make their journey without wearing life jackets.  

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