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A major tragedy was averted on Saturday morning, when all 88 passengers on board a ferry were rescued from a vessel that hit a rock near Mandwa jetty and eventually capsized.

The incident occurred around 10.15 am, when the boat hit a rock just before reaching Mandwa and began sinking. An alert was immediately issued to the marine police and other agencies, following which a rescue operation was launched, an officer said.

According to police sources, the passenger ferry 'Ajanta’ departed from the Gateway of India around 10 am with 88 passengers aboard. “The passengers, including women and children, were mostly tourists, said the police. When the boat was about a kilometre away from Mandwa jetty, it hit a rocky patch in the Arabian sea. Before anybody could react, water started entering the boat and it began sinking,” said Anil Paraskar, Superintendent of Police, Raigad.

While the passengers panicked and began shouting for help, the crew members called the authorities for help. “An alert was issued to the marine police and a police patrol boat with police naik Prashant Gharat and two crew members on board reached the passenger boat in Sadgurukripa vessel,” said Paraskar.

Gharat led the rescue operation and safely evacuated all the passengers from the boat. While 80 passengers were brought to shore in a police patrol boat, the remaining eight were accommodated in another private boat, which was docked at the Mandwa jetty.

There were no injuries reported among the rescued passengers. The Raigad Police have commended Gharat's presence of mind and the speed at which he helped avert a tragedy.

“All the lives were saved on time due to Gharat’s presence of mind and quick thinking. He is likely to be recommended for Jivan Raksha Medal,” Paraskar said.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray lauded the efforts of Raigad police in saving lives. In a statement, Thackeray said the rescue operation was highly commendable. “Prashant Gharat from the coastal police and his colleagues, with the help of fishermen, saved drowning men, women and children and brought them ashore,” the statement said.

On Thursday, a private vessel had drifted and collided with a jetty at INS Karanja in Uran in neighbouring Navi Mumbai. INS Karanja is an important naval base housing armament depots of Western Naval Command's INS Tunir as well as elite Marcos commandos.

The vessel, MV Halami Star, drifted after its anchor broke, an official said. However, he added that the jetty did not suffer damage. A check of the ship by Mumbai Port Control and Marine Police did not find anything suspicious.

The vessel's owner arrived on Saturday with tug boats and other equipment to pull it away, he added.

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