Kinniya ferry tragedy: Blame game goes on | Sunday Observer

Kinniya ferry tragedy: Blame game goes on

28 November, 2021
Rescue operations at the Kuringankerni lagoon
Rescue operations at the Kuringankerni lagoon

The blame game continues with politicians shamelessly passing the buck on each other over their failure to prevent the Kinniya ferry tragedy while an innocent six- year-old battles to live another day, fastened to a life machine at the Intensive Care Unit of the Trincomalee hospital.

What crime have I committed to endure this pain, the little butterfly might ask if she is given chance to live. The little girl left home to attend school with a guardian and ended up on a cold hospital bed tied to a web of plastic tubes over her beautiful face. Her condition is critical, doctors said

The deadly voyage over the Kuringankerni lagoon, on Tuesday morning ended bringing instant death to six, including three school- kids and a kindergarten child. Nearly 30 others who fell onto the river when the passenger ferry toppled were admitted to hospital.

The six bodies of the innocent victims lined up

The ferry, one of two operated over Kuringankerni Lagoon was the fastest, comparatively, to get to the city. The other was steady but slow to those rushing to school and workplaces in the morning.

So they tried to forget about the perilous voyage as they got on board this rickety-makeshift-raft every day.

But attempts to alert the authorities of the looming danger had fallen on deaf ears. The ferry had been authorised by the Chairman of the Kinniya Urban Council S.H.M.Naleem recently. It is said that the owner of the ferry is a political ally of the SLMC MP for Trincomalee district.

Concerned villagers complained that the ferry was a death-trap for those who use it every day and to make things worse, there were no life jackets. Approval had been granted by the Urban Council for the particular ferry, subject to safety guidelines but sadly the UC had failed to monitor compliance by the owner.

The ferry was the convenient mode of transport for the villagers who cross the lagoon along with their trishaws or bicycles, the alternative would have been a 5km ride. A new bridge was planned over the lagoon since the road was in a bad shape. The construction of the bridge first began during the Yahapalana era but was stalled after the new Government took office. In April this year, Rural Roads and Other Infrastructure State Minister Nimal Lansa laid the foundation stone for the bridge but the completion of it is yet to see the light of day.

Who should be blamed for the senseless tragedy is the million dollar question but right now the concern of the Kuringankeri residents is about the speedy restoration and safety the convenient travel route. That would be the way to ensure justice is meted out to the grief –stricken community who has been left high and dry without a safe mode of transportation.

One of the victims at the Kinniya hospital

According to the Eastern Governor Anuradha Yahampath the inordinate delay to build the bridge was due to the pandemic closures but on the contrary villagers say the contractor is to be blamed for foot-dragging.

Shops in Kinniya were closed on Thursday in protest against the tragedy and to demand immediate restoration of the old land route by the lagoon. The people say after the foundation stone was laid in April this year, the dirt road at the site, which was used by villagers to travel by bicycles, motorcycles and trishaws were bulldozed. They voiced that until the work on the bridge is completed, the road should have been preserved.

Other than an excavation machine and some iron structures that could be seen at the location the bridge is to be built nothing else in sight

The two sisters aged 8 years and 6 years who drowned

It was to be a bright morning on November 23. The 30 year-old kindergarten teacher, Sabriya was rushing to work with her two young children and the husband (41) who was also working in the Kinniya town. Her husband lost his wife and the three year-old son (Earlier, it was suspected the teacher had lost both her children but it has come to light now, that her daughter, 6 and the husband survived).

Among the dead were two sisters of the same family aged eight and six. A seventy year-old man who also died had relatives on both sides of the lagoon, so he was a frequent sight on the ferry. Among the injured a six year-old child is in a serious condition at the Trincomalee base hospital while a 30 year-old female is also in a critical condition at the Kilinochchi hospital.

The police arrested and remanded the Ferry owner, the person who manned the ferry and the person who collected the fee, till December 8. The Urban Council Chairman who authorised the ferry service was also arrested and remanded till December 9. But these have come all too late.

Infuriated villages burned tyres in the Kinniya town and stoned the house of Trincomalee district MP M.S. Thowfeek badly damaging his property.

Had the bridge being completed in time during the Yahapalana era or if the Kinniya Urban Council bothered to ensure safety protocols were followed by the ferry owner, this tragedy would never have happened. If money did not alter the value of human life, the laughter and the chatter of those little ones over the lagoon would not have been a memory today.