Crowds throng the seashore, eager to catch a glimpse of the stranded vessel Pratibha Cauvery

Nochikuppam is the new Marina. With people pouring in from everywhere to catch a glimpse of the stranded vessel Pratibha Cauvery, the whole caboodle of hawkers has shifted operations to this fishing hamlet. As a result, the usually populated section of the Marina looks deserted. Fisherman Ethiraj is sorting out his cast net, and is evidently cramped for space. “On festive occasions, especially Kannum Pongal, visitors throng Nochikuppam. But this crowd is unprecedented,” says the fisherman. The ‘disaster tourists’ visit the hamlet, hoping to take home mementoes. “A photo of me please, with my camera!” is the refrain. Those without digital cameras or camera phones, turn to men like Guna, who have parked themselves on the sands of Nochikuppam with instant photo equipment.

Another striking feature is the eclectic nature of the gathering. For example, a bunch of boys from North Chennai, who claim to have never seen a ship, soaked in the view of the hapless vessel. By their side stood an elderly Briton. John William Baker makes short visits to Chennai for charity projects. He is hardly a sailor, but still caught in the memories of his late teens when he sailed. “I have been driven to these shores by curiosity and nostalgia,” he explains. Baker has served the Cunard White-Star Line. The sight of a ship — any ship — brings back those memories, adds the Briton.

With the towing vessel — Malaviya 21 — having arrived on Monday, time is running out for people excited about watching Pratibha Cauvery from close quarters. Media reports on Tuesday announced that operations to salvage the vessel would commence shortly, and, therefore, hurry is the watchword.