Many ships have run aground along the Chennai Coast during previous cyclones. Some have even split into two. But a spectacle that remains etched in the collective memory of the city is the sight of the half-submerged Stematis, a cargo ship flying the Liberian flag, which hit the shores of Marina beach on Nov 3, 1966, and remained as wreckage till the 1990s.

Many ships have run aground along the Chennai Coast during previous cyclones. Some have even split into two.

But a spectacle that remains etched in the collective memory of the city is the sight of the half-submerged Stematis, a cargo ship flying the Liberian flag, which hit the shores of Marina beach on Nov 3, 1966, and remained as wreckage till the 1990s.

For long, the ruined Stematis was a major attraction. Large number of visitors flocked the beach to see the odd sight of a partially-submerged ship. The more adventurous, after paying the fee of a rupee, sailed the short distance for a closer view.

A cyclonic storm, expected to cross the coast of Nagapattinam, moved north and hit the shores of Madras on the evening of November 3, 1966. Winds blowing at a speed of 100 kmph damaged at least six ships.

The worst affected was the Panamanian cargo ship Progress. The ship split in two after hitting a rock north of the harbour and about 26 crewmembers, mostly Chinese, died.

Two ships, Stematis and Mari Hora, flying Liberian flags jostled violently and drifted. While Mari Hora ran aground off the Port Trust marshalling yard, Stematis was dragged further and reached the shores of Marina beach. The Madras Steamers Agents’ Association, after a few days, declared that Mari Hora was “as good as wrecked as it had developed a big crack amidship,” but they had some hopes about refloating Stematis.

Ten days later, attempts to pull the ship out of the sand commenced. Large crowds had gathered to witness the event, but they were disappointed since the recovery operations failed.

M/s. Diana Maritime Corporation, the owners, agreed to sell what was remaining of the ship for its scrap value — about Rs. 3.3 lakh — to a local company. However, the wreckage could not be completely removed.

The ruined ship attracted a lot of curious onlookers, but it also turned into a death trap. Many who swam close to it were not aware of the buried, sharp steel girders and were often fatally injured. In January 1983, over three days that followed Pongal, 19 dead bodies were washed ashore. This tragedy created a furore.

“We certainly don’t want many more parents and friends to say he touched the ship and he touched death,” in anguish, wrote Rev. Dr. Joseph A.L. Baynes, a reader of The Hindu, and urged the government to quickly clear the damaged ship.

Finally in 1990, a major effort was made to haul the wreckage to shore. A Bombay-based company mobilised more than 30 strong workers to wrap the broken ship with wires and tried to haul it with the help of two winches. The wreckage was removed, but not completely.

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