Rescue services on Thursday recovered the bodies of 25 men who drowned at Clifton Beach during the Eid holidays this week. While it remained unclear until the evening how many people perished in the choppy waters, nearly a dozen more families told The Express Tribune that they have yet to find their missing relatives.
Navy officials came forward with helicopters and divers to assist the ill-equipped and poorly managed municipal authorities.
“We found the first body at 5.30 pm on Wednesday,” said Clifton ASP Dr Asad. “No one complained to the police that their relatives had drowned at the beach,” he said, explaining the delay in recovering the deceased.
Initially, rescuers from the civil authorities and divers from Edhi participated in the rescue operation. At 11.45 pm on Wednesday night, authorities requested the navy’s assistance. “We were already prepared to conduct this operation,” the Pakistan Navy spokesperson told The Express Tribune. “Our rescue teams, including divers’ teams and Sea King helicopters, were immediately moved to the site.”
The first two helicopters and three teams of divers – with nine members each – reached the beach at midnight on Wednesday. However, the operation had to be restarted at 5.30 am on Thursday as the darkness prevented any rescue procedures.
The Maritime Security Agency and Pakistan Coast Guard have held back from the rescue efforts, saying it does not fall within their jurisdiction and they are unable to carry out a search and rescue operation due to the rough conditions at sea. Edhi’s rescue services officials have also been asked to stay out of the water in order to avoid any further mishap.
Earlier on Thursday night, Commissioner Karachi Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui said that 21 bodies were recovered from Sea View, and two from Hawk’s Bay. Siddiqui said that 11 bodies were recovered on Wednesday, while 12 were found on Thursday. Later on Thursday, two more bodies were found from Gadani and Hub. “The rescue operation will continue until the recovery of each and every body,” Siddiqui said.
Section 144 was already imposed on swimming at the beach but a large number of people went there to celebrate Eid, Siddiqui said. Section 144 bans the gathering of more than four people at one place for rallies and protests.
The bodies of 18 people have been identified and handed over to their families after medico-legal formalities were completed at Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre. The bodies of seven more have yet to be identified and are at the Edhi morgue. The victims were aged between 12 to 30 years and most belonged to the Pashtun community. The deceased include residents of Orangi Town, Keamari, Korangi, Sohrab Goth, Hijrat Colony, Muslimabad and Baldia Town.
Authorities say that at least a dozen people could still be lost at sea. “This is not the first time we have gone to Sea View for a swim,” said Kashif, a resident of Orangi Town, whose maternal uncle and brother are still missing. “This time the size and speed of the waves escalated and were pushing us towards the deep waters. I got scared and ran to shore, but I saw my uncle and brother disappearing in front of my eyes.”
Some affected families did not know their relatives had drowned until news channels covered the incident. Some of the deceased were visiting Karachi from across the country for the Eid holidays. “We thought they would be with their other relatives and we tried to contact their cellphones, but they didn’t respond,” said Kamran, whose relatives Fazalur Rehman and Aziz were visiting from Quetta. Kamran later identified the two bodies of his relatives at the hospital’s mortuary.
Beaches were sealed in Karachi and an extra contingent of police deployed in the areas to prevent any prospective swimmers. There were reports of scuffles between families trying to picnic at the beach and the police, as they prevented them from heading to the shore. The rescue operation concluded at 9 pm on Thursday due to the darkness. Officials said operations will commence once again on Friday morning.
IGP Sindh Ghulam Haider Jamali has constituted a high-powered inquiry committee under Additional IG Karachi to ascertain facts and fix responsibility into the tragic drowning incident at Sea View. The committee will submit its report within 24 hours. In the wake of the incident, the IGP has suspended the area’s SHO and removed DSP Darakshan.
Families await remains at the shore
Almost a dozen families interviewed by The Express Tribune claimed that their loved ones drowned at the beach during the Eid break, even as officials contradicted these claims. According to Karachi Commissioner Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui, his office received complaints of 23 persons who had drowned and all the bodies had been recovered. “Seventeen bodies have been handed over to the families while the others are awaiting legal formalities,” he said. “We are still carrying out the rescue work.”
The families of these missing persons, along with police and rescue workers, occupied the beach spot in front of Dolmen Mall, as the shoreline was off-limits to the public.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2014.