14 months after Shivaji Memorial boat mishap: Owner, 4 boat company officials booked for culpable homicide

Vishwas Waghmode
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On September 16, 2019, The Indian Express had reported that the inquiry report had concluded that “human error” had led to mishap.

Fourteen months after the death of a person in a boat mishap en route to the ‘bhoomipujan’ for the proposed statue of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj in the Arabian Sea, Mumbai police has registered a case against five officials of the yacht company, including its owner, for culpable homicide not amounting to murder along with other charges.

The case was registered on January 10 after police received the inquiry report from the Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB) in first week of November. The five persons booked in the case include the owner (not named in FIR) of M/s West Coast Marine Yacht Services Pvt Ltd company, operator Ashim Mongia, manager Melwin Briganza, master Ruchit Sakharkhar and seaman Akbar Mahadkar under section 304 (II) (culpable homicide not amounting to murder), 280 (rash navigation of vessel) and 337 (causing hurt by act of endangering life or personal safety of others) of the Indian Penal Code.

Siddhesh Pawar, 34, was killed when the speedboat carrying 18 people capsized in the Arabian Sea off Mumbai coast on October 24, 2018. The boat was on its way to the proposed Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Memorial site in the Arabian Sea ahead of the groundbreaking ceremony. Following the accident, the state government had ordered a probe by Maharashtra Maritime Board (MMB) in the matter.

Captain Sanjay Sharma, Chief Port Officer of MMB, submitted the inquiry report to police in the first week of November. The report concluded that “the mishap occurred due to human error”.

On September 16, 2019, The Indian Express had reported that the inquiry report had concluded that “human error” had led to mishap.

“The report concludes that the mandatory ‘navigational chart’ and ‘Doppler log’ was not kept in the M B MRM-1 speedboat. The GPS and VHF (very high frequency) systems were not functional on the boat. As per the Survey Certificate norms, there should have been 24 life jackets and four life boys. But these norms were not followed,” Police Sub-Inspector Manik Holkar said in his complaint on the basis of which the FIR was registered.

“Despite knowing that not ensuring the safety of the passengers may lead to loss of their lives, the owner of M/s West Coast Marine Yacht Services Pvt Ltd, operator Ashim Mongia, manager Melwin Briganza, Master Ruchit Sakharkhar and Seaman Akbar Mahadkar didn’t follow the norms mentioned in the Survey Certificate.

Also, master Ruchit Sakharkar drove the speedboat rashly that led to the accident in which Siddhesh Pawar died,” Holkar stated, adding that a case should be registered against them.

Police officials said that no arrests have been made so far in the case. “We will start recording the statement of the witnesses who were present in the boat at the time of the incident,” a police officer said.

Vice Admiral (retd) I C Rao, president of APLI Mumbai, an NGO that has been opposing the Shivaji Memorial on environmental and safety grounds, said crew members were being made scapegoat in the accident. “They are making the boat crew the scapegoats. The people responsible are those who granted the permission and allowed the vessel to proceed when they didn’t have mandatory safety measures,” Rao said.

“No authority in India can give permission for a passenger boat registered under the Inland Vessels Act to cross the maritime baseline and proceed into the open sea. So, the safety policies should be enforced and action should be taken against those who did not prevent the vessel from crossing maritime baseline,” he added.

The proposed Shivaji Memorial - 212 m in height, including a 123.2-m equestrian statue standing atop an 88.8-m pedestal - was the flagship project of the BJP-led state government. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had carried out its ‘jalpoojan’ in 2016.

Currently, work has been stalled after the PWD, in January 2019, asked the contractor to stop work days after the Supreme Court, while hearing a special leave petition on January 11, orally asked the state not to proceed with the construction of the statue.

(With inputs from Sagar Rajput)