At least 22 people died after a tourist boat capsized in southern India. The tragedy took place off the coastal town of Tanur in the Kerala state on Sunday, around 7pm local time. Rescue efforts continued into Monday, after the double-decker boat was pulled from the muddy water.
The death toll may further rise, it is feared, and authorities have reported casualties included women and children on school holidays.
An officer from Tanur police station said: “We have recovered 22 bodies, including 15 females and seven males. There are around six people in the hospital. Rescue operations are on.”
Kerala’s sports and fisheries minister, V Abdurahiman, said at least four of the people who were taken to hospital are in critical condition.
11 people from one family, including three children, have sadly died in the incident, according to local publication Onmanorama.
Authorities said they are looking into what caused the vessel to overturn.
Abdul Nazar, junior superintendent of police of Malappuram district, said the boat capsized due to overcrowding.
Reports have claimed the vessel was carrying between 30 to 40 people when the incident happened – more than its capacity.
Several passengers remained trapped under the boat, local media reported, and rescue efforts were initially held back by the darkness.
Ambika, a resident of the nearby Tanur area, described the moment the tragedy struck.
Speaking to Manorama news channel, the local said everyone seemed to be “cheering happy” when she first saw the vessel approaching.
However, she continued: “Suddenly the lights went out, the boat sank and the cheers were replaced with screams for help.”
The local said she immediately contacted the police for help – but the rescue operations were made difficult by the lack of light.
She said: “We could not do anything beyond that because it was getting dark and there was no way to reach the passengers.”
Shameer, a lifeguard involved in the rescue operation, recalled to Mathrubhumi news channel what rescuers saw upon arriving on the scene of the disaster.
The boat, he said, was “completely upside down”. He added: “I recovered four bodies and none of them had life jackets on.”
Many other passengers were also not wearing life jackets, survivors claimed to local media.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said to be “pained” by the disaster.
He wrote on Twitter via his office’s official account: “Pained by the loss of lives due to the boat mishap in Malappuram, Kerala. Condolences to the bereaved families. An ex-gratia of Rs. 2 lakh from PMNRF would be provided to the next of kin of each deceased.”
Monday was declared a day of official mourning in light of the tragedy, local media wrote quoting a government statement.