A group of fishermen in the sea around 10 nautical miles off the Puducherry coast near the new lighthouse at Dubrayanpet were excited when one of their nets got entangled in the sea on Monday. Thinking it was a prize catch, the fishermen strained to pull it to the surface, only to find a strange metallic object. Mystified, the 10 fishermen dragged it to the shore.

“Only after reaching the coast where people gathered to see the device did we realise it was used to launch satellites,” said Pravin, one of the fishermen.

From the look of it, though rusted and deformed in some places, it appears to be one of the solid propellant strap-on motors used by the PSLV to launch satellites. Each of these six motors developed by ISRO’s Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre at Thiruvananthapuram carries 9 tonnes of propellant. They are believed to have been employed in various PSLV flights including the ones that launched Chandrayaan-1 and the microwave remote sensing satellite RISAT.

Meanwhile, police personnel and revenue staff have been deputed around the area till further orders. The Department of Science and Technology will be contacting ISRO to find out whether the device contains hazardous fuel, said an official. If not, then perhaps it would be shifted to the Abdul Kalam science centre at Lawspet for educational purposes, the official added.

Even as confusion prevailed among officials on how to handle it, the area has turned into a tourist spot. Hundreds of people started gathering there as the news spread.

However, the fishermen who hauled up the device have lost their catch as well as their nets worth Rs 50,000. Even the diesel spent has gone waste, says Pravin.