It has been ten days since cyclone Nilam. In this age of 24-hour news coverage, it is stale news. But a sad reminder of the windstorm is stuck in the sands in Chennai, just off the Marina Beach. It is MT Pratibha Cauvery, a mammoth oil tanker vessel with a dead weight of about 30,000 tonnes. It was stationed in the Chennai Outer Anchorage when Nilam struck. The winds were so powerful that the ship lost anchor and started drifting towards the coast. It ran aground near Elliot's Beach in Besant Nagar. Panic set in and 22 of the 37 crew members jumped into a lifeboat, hoping to reach the safety of the shore which was just a short distance way. But, as luck would have it, the boat capsized. A team of alert fishermen organized impromptu rescue operations and brought 16 sailors to the shore. Sadly, half a dozen lives were lost in this tragedy.
Over the next few days, the beached ship moved slowly towards the Marina Beach. Ever since running aground, it has been an object of curiosity and amusement for Chennaiites, who are flocking in large numbers to see the huge ship that has been brought so close to their shores by the fury of the cyclone. Efforts are on to pull it back into the sea with the help of other tugboats, but it is refusing to budge.
The narrow lane behind Santhome Basilica is all abuzz with activity. It is basically a fishermen's village with ramshackle shanties across the beach. There is an incessant flow of vehicles on this otherwise neglected lane. Curious onlookers are coming in to catch a glimpse of the vessel from close quarters. Hawkers are using this opportunity to make a quick buck. There are pony rides, ice cream carts, and urchins selling cut fruit and snacks. Amidst all the fanfare, Chennai's temporary tourist attraction is rooted firmly in the unfamiliar territory it has accidentally strayed into, waiting to be towed back into the familiar environs of the sea.
I managed to take these pictures on a bright Saturday afternoon, feeling sorry for the victims of this unfortunate event while the beached Pratibha Cauvery continued to loom large over the horizon.
Postscript: The salvage operation was on even as I was writing this post. The ship has been pulled out of the seabed. It has been successfully towed away to the Outer Seas. The 11-day spectacle has ended and the vessel is now out of sight.
Nov 12, 2012