A fire broke out in a jetty area here in which at least 35 fishing boats were gutted, even as the police launched a hunt for 10 to 15 persons who allegedly partied in one of the boats, officials said on Monday.
The fire broke out around 11.30 pm on Sunday in a boat owned by Balaji in zero jetty and was doused by 4 am on Monday, officials said. However, no death or injury was reported in the accident, the officials added.
Visakhapatnam Harbour Assistant Commissioner of Police B Moses Paul said police are probing the role of the group of 10 to 15 people who quarrelled over a transaction.
"After a boat caught fire, the group untied it and pushed it into the sea but it drifted back towards the boats and sparked a bigger fire," Paul told PTI and said
The blaze occurred in an area near the Visakhapatnam Container Terminal and an Indian Oil Corporation facility where fishing boats were anchored. Police received the names of the persons involved in the skirmish while Paul said more clarity over the cause of the fire will emerge on questioning them.
Though 25 fire tenders were pressed into service from across the city over time, it was the Navy's Sahara firefighting boat which managed to extinguish the flames by spraying foam and sand, he said.
According to Paul, the fire tenders could not put off the blaze initially because almost every boat had diesel and cooking gas cylinders.
Every 10 to 15 minutes, he said those cylinders exploded.
Visakhapatnam Deputy Commissioner of Police-Zone II K Ananda Reddy said the intervening night of Sunday and Monday was quite windy, causing the fire to spread quickly among the boats made of fibre (plastic) and anchored closely.
"Many of these boats also carry up to 5,000 litres of diesel as the fishermen venture into the sea for weeks. Many boats also carried LPG cylinders which the fisherfolk use for cooking," Reddy added.
Considering the critical location of the fire, Reddy said the Vizag Steel Plant fire brigade and the Navy were also alerted, while controlling the fire without further spread proved to be a big task.
Visakhapatnam District Fire Officer S Renukayya said he received a call about the accident around 1 am, prompting him to rush firefighters and 12 fire tenders initially, including seeking help from the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) and the Visakhapatnam Port Trust.
According to Renukayya, the firefighters managed to control the fire from spreading to other boats in the vicinity within half an hour but it took almost two hours to douse the fire completely.
According to estimates, each boat is valued between Rs 35 lakh and Rs 50 lakh, Ananda Reddy said. Police booked a case of accidental fire, he added.
Paul said the port city has about 11 jetties, each of which could accommodate the anchorage of up to 60 fishing boats.
Meanwhile, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy expressed sorrow over the fire accident and directed Fisheries Minister Seediri Appalaraju to personally visit the accident spot.
The Chief Minister directed officials to carry out a thorough investigation and find the reasons for it, said an official statement.
Further, the CM instructed officials to support the fishermen who lost their boats and help them in whatever way possible.