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At least 21 persons were killed after an overcrowded tourist boat capsized in the Andaman Sea in Port Blair in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands on Sunday.
Two passengers were missing and 23 persons were rescued. The boat sank on its way from Ross Island to the North Bay around 4pm, said P Johar, deputy commissioner of South Andaman district.
Sources in the district administration said the boat had a capacity to carry 25 people. It was carrying 46 people comprising tourists from Kanchipuram district of Tamil Nadu and Mumbai as well as crew members.
Boat capsize incidents take a big toll on India every year, raising questions over security measures while bringing to fore non-compliance with guidelines.
The civil administration and defence establishments like the Coast Guard carried out the rescue operations on Sunday. Efforts were on to trace the whereabouts of the two missing, the sources said.
" Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has expressed shock over the boat tragedy in the Andamans and has condoled the loss of lives," a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office said.
Expressing deep sorrow at the deaths of at least 28 people in the accident, Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa ordered officials to take necessary action for providing relief to the survivors.
In a statement issued in Chennai, the CM said senior state government officials have been ordered to immediately reach Port Blair to provide medical relief to those who have been rescued.
Out of the total 46 passengers, 33 were from Kanchipuram district, around 70 km from Chennai, she said, adding the majority of the dead were from the district only. Orders have been issued to bring the bodies in Chennai at the state government's cost.
She also ordered the release of Rs.100,000 as solatium for the families of each of the dead.
The tourists from Kanchipuram were staying in a resort at Prothrapur in South Andaman district.
Lieutenant Governor of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lt Gen (Retd) AK Singh, announced an ex-gratia payment of Rs 1 lakh each to the families of the victims.
Singh also spoke to Union home minister Sushilkumar Shinde and briefed him on the rescue operations, which he ordered after the accident.
The rescued persons were admitted to GB Pant Hospital in Port Blair. The bodies were also taken there for post-mortem, the sources added.
Helpline numbers set up at the district control room are: 1070, 03192-240127/230178/238881. Those in the GB Pant Hospital are: 03192-230629/9933274092. The local helpline number is 102.
The additional district magistrate of South Andaman was directed to conduct a magisterial inquiry into the incident.