SHARJAH // For months they have been grounded at the sea's edge, two merchant ships that have fascinated walkers, children playing on the sand and many curious passers-by.
The Sea Mermid and the Lady Rana became Sharjah's newest sightseeing attractions in February when, within days of each other, their captains grounded them side by side on the Corniche beach to stop them breaking up in fierce storms.
Word spread quickly and soon hundreds of people were flocking to gaze at the vessels. The traffic on the adjoining Al Muntazah Street slowed to a crawl as drivers craned their necks to take in the scene.
Gradually, as the novelty wore off, the crowds melted away and the flow of cars returned to normal.
Now the stretch of beach is again a hive of activity, as a team of 25 salvage specialists have moved in and begun the task of breaking up the vessels for scrap metal.
They started with the Sea Mermid, but before they could slice her up with oxyacetylene torches they had to move the hulk out of the water and up the beach. This was a tricky operation involving divers, a giant balloon and a powerful winch.
"The major job was to pull the ship. It took nine days," said Ahmad al Saadi, the marketing manager of the Sharjah salvage company SMJ, which is carrying out the work for the Sharjah Port Authority.
"You have to dive under the ship and it takes time. We put a balloon under the ship, then we put in air and float the ship and then we pull it with the winch."
"It'll take another two weeks to cut it up. We've already started work on the Lady Rana. There are men inside removing wooden fittings, then we'll have to pull it and cut it up. It'll take another month."
Mr al Saadi said the hulls had been cut open in a number of places as the vessels were pushed over rocks by powerful waves, and it had not been possible to repair and salvage them.
The Sea Mermid, a 2,326-tonne oil tanker under the UAE flag, was driven towards shore on February 4 after it had been moored off the coast. It came to rest on the shoreline and police and coastguard officers helped the crew to safety.
Then, on February 12, it was joined by the Lady Rana, a 2,822-tonne cargo vessel, which sailed under the Panamanian flag. The ship struck rocks as it was battered by winds gusting at 54kph amid three-metre swells. Again the crew were led to safety by the coastguard.
Suresh Pillai, the manager of the Dana Beach Hotel, which overlooks the scene, recalled the night the Sea Mermid appeared.
"There was a very big noise like a blast around 2.30am when everyone was sleeping," Mr Pillai said. "Everyone was woken up. We went outside and saw the boat just as the police arrived, so were not allowed to go near it. The police blocked off the road to traffic.
"In the following days so many people came to see it and take photographs. All the locals and families came, hundreds of people at a time. We had a good view from the roof.
"Then 10 days later the same thing happened with the second boat, again at about the same time. It was extraordinary to see the second one."
Nissrin Halfya, a receptionist at a nearby clinic, described the day she turned up for work and saw the Sea Mermid stranded on the rocks.
"It was rather surprising to see it coming in from the sea - and when the second one appeared I thought, 'is there a gathering, are a lot of boats coming here?'" Ms Halfya said.
But she added that, even though the ships had become such an established part of the local scene, she would not miss them when they were removed. "It's good they're not leaving them, I'm glad they are going - it will tidy the beach up."
One person who will be sorry to see the vessels go is Alexander McNabb, the director of a public relations company who has written about them on his Fake Plastic Souk s blog. The stretch of beach is at the end of his road.
"I think I'll miss them in an odd way, just because they've been part of the scenery," Mr McNabb said. "You get quite used to them. I've never seen the like, storms doing that twice to shipping and leaving them less than 100 metres apart.
"They were a huge public draw. They put police there because people had been clambering about on the boats. It's not every day you see ships like that."