At least 1 dead, 35 missing in Assam after ferries collide in the Brahmaputra

The Brahmaputra at Neamatighat in eastern Assam’s Jorhat district has been flowing close to the danger mark.

One person died and at least 35 others were missing after two ferries collided in the flooded Brahmaputra off Neamatighat in eastern Assam’s Jorhat district in the afternoon of September 8. 

The dead and the missing were on a smaller ferry that capsized after the collision with a bigger one from the opposite direction about 350m off Neamatighat ferry point at about 3.30 p.m. IST.

Google Maps image locates Neamatighat in eastern Assam’s Jorhat district and the Kamalabari ferry point in Majuli island. 

Jorhat district officials said 42 people onboard ‘Maa Kamala’, the smaller ferry that had set sail from Neamatighat for Kamalabari ferry point in Majuli island, either swam to safety or were rescued. All passengers on ‘Tipkai’, the bigger ferry that was en route to Neamatighat from Kamalabari, were rescued by the personnel of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF). 

Jorhat’s Superintendent of Police Ankur Jain said the rescued included seven children. A few were admitted to local hospitals but a 28-year-old woman among them died. 

“A communication error between the operators of the two boats perhaps led to the collision after which the smaller ferry sank,” Mr. Jain told The Hindu.

A woman holds a two-month old infant who was rescued from a ferry capsize in the Brahmaputra at Neamatighat in Assam’s Jorhat district on September 8, 2021.  | Photo Credit: AP

NDRF and SDRF personnel were searching for the missing who were carried away downstream by the river’s current, local officials said.  

The ferries on the Brahmaputra operate under the Inland Water Transport Department. Passengers pay the fare onboard but since tickets are not issued, officials could not specify the number of passengers on the capsized ferry. 

The mechanised ferries have a capacity to carry 70 to 80 people along vehicles, mostly two-wheelers. But local residents claim most ferries haul 100 to 120 people. About 30 two-wheelers on the capsized ferry sank.  

Ferries are the only mode of communication between Majuli and Jorhat districts, and the journey is often risky during the monsoon months when the Brahmaputra remains swollen.  

Majuli is accessible by road from the northern bank of the Brahmaputra for the most part of the year. 

Reacting to the mishap, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Saddened by the boat accident in Assam. All possible efforts are being made to rescue the passengers. I pray for everyone’s safety and well-being.” 

Union Home Minister Amit Shah called up Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma to take stock of the situation. The Chief Minister is scheduled to visit Neamatighat on September 9 to assess the situation.  Union Ports and Shipping Minister Sarbananda Sonowal expressed deep anguish over the ferry mishap. He directed officials of the Ministry to provide assistance to the victims.

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