Vijayawada: At least 21 people drowned in the Krishna River after an overcrowded boat capsized near the Ibrahimpatnam Ferry in Krishna district on Sunday.

The private boat was travelling from Bhavani Island to Pavitra Sangamam at the time of the incident.

The boat, which had 38 people on board, overturned when trying to manoeuvre towards Pavitra Sangamam after leaving the ferry.

Members of the Ongole Walkers Club had travelled to old Amaravati to take an auspicious Karthika dip in the Krishna River and perform pujas at the ancient Amareswara Temple. They had travelled to Bhavani Island by an AP Tourism Development Corporation boat. In the evening, they decided to go to Pavitra Sangamam. They inquired with the APTDC regarding the availability of a boat, but were told that the boat service had been stopped due to poor light in the evening. The group then contacted Simple Water Sports and requested a boat. The driver of the boat agreed to take them to Pavithra Sangamam at a cost of Rs 300 per head.

Life Jackets Were Not Given To All

The survivors alleged that they had asked driver for life jackets for everyone on board, but he gave only 15 life jackets saying that they would not need them while travelling in a modern boat.

The boat began shaking while attempting to turn towards Pavitra Sangamam after leaving the Ferry and subsequently turned turtle, trapping the passengers underneath it.

Those who had life jackets on were able to escape with some help from local fishermen. A team of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) rushed to the spot and rescued a few others. 60 members of the NDRF and 60 members of fire department with 12 boats participated in the rescue operation. They were able to save 17 persons.

Gowtham Sawang, the police commissioner of Vijayawada, and other officials rushed to the spot and supervised the rescue operation using high-power flashlights.

The bodies of Ch Parvathi, Prasad Kumar Reddy, Bindu Sree, Anjamma, Sujatha, Venkateswarlu, S. Venkayamma, K. Anjaneyulu, Prabhakar Reddy, Venkateshwar Rao, Rayapati Subramanyam and Dr Seetaramaiah have been identified.

16 bodies were shifted to Ongole after conducting port-mortem at Vijayawada government hospital. Five of the survivors, all women, are undergoing treatment at Andhra hospital. It is suspected that there could be more deaths as the boat owners are not able to give clear number of total passengers. The District Collector said there were 44 passengers and three boat employees in total but so far 41 were accounted for. Another four are yet to be traced.

River Boating Adventures Owned By Tourism Officials?

The boat which overturned killing 17 passengers in the Krishna river near Vijayawada is owned by River Boating Adventures which is a benami company floated by an official in the AP Tourism Department. The boat did not have permission to operate in the river.

Tourism Minister Bhuma Akhilapriya said stringent action will be taken against those who are behind the boat accident. "Even if there are tourism department officials, they won't be spared and all measures will be taken to avoid recurrence of this type of tragedies," Akhilapriya said.

A case of culpable homicide not amounting to murder has been registered against five persons - boat owners, driver and other staff and one of them was arrested on Sunday night. Others are absconding.