The grounded barge that damaged part of the historic Pamban railway bridge seemed to have attracted a large crowd as tourists thronged the Palk Bay area where the floating barge was anchored.
In fact, private boat services had a field day ferrying tourists for a fee to view the damaged barge that was anchored about a nautical mile away from Rameswaram.
Sources said that two boats carried tourists in Palk Bay near Olaikuda to enjoy the panoramic view of the coral reef and the sea while the damaged barge became an added attraction when boats passed by rather close to it.
Vimal Kumar of Uttar Pradesh said that the barge caught the eye of the tourists, especially the children and women, and that they were thankful to the boat service to have taken them near the vessel. The barge SB-II seemed to be enjoying all the attention it is receiving in Rameswaram. Bose, a partner in the private boat service, said that the number of tourists increased after the barge anchored near Rameswaram. At least 1,500 tourists boarded the boats on Tuesday alone, he added.
The private boat service authority collected `60 per head with a concession for students. Each trip had not more than 75 persons.
An official from the Rameswaram Port office told Express that the barge was anchored a nautical mile away from Rameswaram shore and the boats were allowed to take tourists up to three nautical miles from the shoreline.
Constructed by a private shipyard at Kolkata and weighing 220 tonnes, the self propelled barge was handed over to the Indian Navy.
Lahiri, a representative of the ship yard in Kolkata, said that the Indian Navy had placed orders for seven barges and three had already been delivered. The current one was the fourth in the series to be handed over at Karwar or Mumbai, he added.
The tug of the private ship yard started to pull the barge from Kolkata to Karwar on January 1 for the handover. It was anchored near the Pamban Bridge for clearance from Pamban Port office to cross the railway bridge through navigational route when the tug ran aground and it got pinned between two rocks. The barge went adrift and dashed against the 100-years-old Pamban railway bridge on Jan 13 night. The barge too suffered damages and was shifted to Rameswaram where it was anchored a nautical mile away from the shore.