The debris of the steam-powered crane and its engine house used on the Old Valiyathura Pier, which was destroyed in 1947 after a steam ship collided with it, have reportedly been discovered underwater off Valiyathura.
The discovery was made by researcher Robert Panipilla of ‘Friends of Marine Life’, a local forum, and his British friend Paul Calvert. Snorkelling in the area on Sunday, the two men found the debris of the crane, the vertical cross-tube boiler and the steam engine used to operate it at a depth of five metres, Panipilla said.
‘’We found the engine, cranes and the boilers. The machinery is thickly covered with clams and sponges,’’ he said. According to him, the steam engine used to power the crane could be the first or among the first to be used in Indian ports. The men have taken underwater footage of the debris, which shows - in greenish underwater glow - scarcely-recognisable machinery parts covered with marine life.
The discovery, however, was not a serendipitous one, he said. In fact, there were two phases to it. ‘Friends of Marine Life’ has been actively collating the local history of the region for eight years now. As part of this, the forum had put together some material on this pier. The Mathilakam documents on Travancore history mention the pier. The year given is 1825. But nothing is said about the actual construction or cost. According to Panipilla, there is historical evidence that steam power was used for the construction of the Hajur Kacheri in the late 1860s as well as for the cleaning of the Padmatheertham pond in 1872-73.
What he calls ‘Phase II’ of the discovery came after he took up a research project for the State Biodiversity Board. He chanced upon a phenomenon. Two types of fish species were prevalent on either side of the pier mouth at Valiyathura. The fishermen here told him that debris of the old pier were believed to be lying on the northern side and a marine ecosystem had developed here. That finally led to Sunday’s snorkelling expedition.
Valiyathura used to be a regular port of call for steam ships. About 5 pm on November 23, 1947, S S Pandit, a steam ship, rammed the approximately 725-ft pier destroying it. ‘’Several people died. It is documented that the people of the region stopped eating fish as people had drowned here,’’ Panipilla said. The ill-fated ship was later towed off by a vessel which arrived from Tuticorin. The mishap, however, hit the livelihood of the local people. The new pier was opened on September 10, 1956.
‘’The Archaeology Department and the Harbour Engineering Department should take steps to document the underwater discovery,’’ Panipilla said.