Year Needed to Remove Cargo Ship Wrecked Off Devon

LONDON, UK, January 23, 2007 (ENS) - Work to salvage the cargo of the container ship MSC Napoli aground in East Devon's Lyme Bay proceeded today with construction of a fence at Branscombe beach to keep scavangers away from broken containers spilling their contents onto the shore.

The operation to remove the containers from the stricken ship will take months, according to the Maritime And Coastguard Agency, MCA. Once this has been completed, the process of removing the ship will begin. The whole operation is likely to take up to a year.


The MSC Napoli is listing and aground in Lyme Bay on the Devon coast near the Jurassic Coast World Heritage site. (Photo courtesy Tom Williams)
The 62,000 metric ton British-flagged ship lost power during a gale in the English Channel Thursday, when the engine room flooded more than 40 miles from the Cornish coast. After the crew was rescued unharmed, the ship was deliberately grounded Sunday to keep it from sinking.

About 200 metric tons of oil from the ship's ruptured fuel tank has spilled near an area which forms part of a the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. The MSC Napoli was carrying 2,323 containers, 158 of which are classed as hazardous, and authorities fear hazardous materials may escape from broken containers washed up on the beach.

People scavaged East Devon beaches yesterday and today to pick through cargo from beached containers. They trampled over private property, and brought large vehicles and roughly constructed stretchers through villages to take away cargo ranging from shoes and toys to BMW motorbikes.

Containers which held people's personal possessions were looted and their property discarded on the beach.

The Maritime And Coastguard Agency, MCA, says "these activities caused damage estimated to be 800 percent more significant than the damage caused by the incident itself."

The oil tanker Forth Fisher is now on scene and started to pump the first of the heavy fuel oil from the vessel. Work will continue for the next week to transfer all of the oil from the vessel.


Car and wrecked container from the MSC Napoli that came ashore on Branscombe beach. (Photo courtesy Dan Regan)
Since the vessel was run aground, there has been some leakage of used engine room oil and sludge from a crack in the port side, which has now been stopped.

In addition, there has been another small fuel leak that the MCA says was identified and plugged by divers.

"This provided us with the opportunity to test the effect of spraying dispersants on the oil," the MCA said in a statement today. "The test was successful and the oil sprayed was observed to be dispersing. In addition oil containment booming was deployed to trap the leaking oil."

The oil slick from the Napoli extends four miles along the coast.

A total of 268 birds have been admitted to the RSPCA West Hatch Wildlife Centre since the MSC Napoli was beached. RSPCA officers are responding to public concerns about stricken birds on beaches from Paignton in Devon to the Purbecks near Poole.


Seabird fouled with oil from the Napoli is in expert hands at the RSPCA West Hatch Wildlife Centre in Somerset. (Photo courtesy RSPCA)
"The job now is to rehydrate, clean and rehabilitate this huge number of sick seabirds," said Rupert Griffiths, manager of RSPCA West Hatch Wildlife Centre. "It is a complicated process, which requires birds first to be weighed, then flushed with charcoal to absorb oil from their stomachs, before cleaning their clogged feathers with detergent."

The RSPCA says if people find oiled birds, they should not attempt to wash or feed the birds but should leave that to the experts. Call the RSPCA 24-hour helpline: 0870 55 55 999, which can arrange collection or identify a nearby collection point.

Meanwhile, salvors and contractors are taking steps to remove the fuel oil aboard the MSC Napoli. Each of the fuel tanks on board the ship will be pumped out on a step by step basis. At the same time, two heavy duty cranes will be loaded onto barges in Rotterdam and will arrive at the vessel within a week.

The contractor who erected the fence across Branscombe Beach has started to bring in diggers, dumper trucks and cutting equipment. From tomorrow, there will be no public access to the beach, with access to the village restricted to residents.

People who have already acquired items of wreck must by law report it to the Receiver of Wreck. This can be done via a form available on the MCA's website at In the meantime items should be secured and held until the agency contacts the legal owner of the property.

Receiver of Wreck's officer Mark Rodaway of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency called the scavangers' behavior "dreadful."


BMW first aid kit washed ashore from a container off the MSC Napoli (Photo courtesy David Mitchell)
"I hope that members of the public will cooperate with us to allow the important beach cleanup operation to move ahead without delay," Rodaway said.

The organization of coastal local authorities in Britain and eight other Northern European countries is concerned about liability and compensation for damages in such incidents.

KIMO International, an organization that consists of 115 coastal local authorities representing over six million inhabitants, said today that the grounding of the MSC Napoli is the type of incident that the North Sea ministers and senior officials should have addressed, but ignored, at a meeting last year.

KIMO officials had called on the ministers to take action to protect coastal communities from the impacts of pollution from container ships. However, these requests fell on deaf ears despite previous commitments in 2002 and in 2006, the organization said.

KIMO President Councillor Angus Nicolson said, “This incident highlights an issue on which we have been campaigning for many years and confirms our fears that as these large containerships increase in age this type of accident will become more prevalent."

"The fact that there is no compensation and liability regime in place could adversely affect coastal communities and place a further burden on local authorities which could find themselves responsible for costly clean up operations, as was the case for the MV Cita,” said Nicolson.

The container ship MV Cita ran aground in 1997 on the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago off the southwestern tip of the UK not far from Lyme Bay. After an eight year court case, the local authority and the UK Department for Transport received no compensation for damages and were liable for their own costs for the legal battle.

MV Cita

Wreck of the MV Cita lies on the ocean floor at the Isles of Scilly (Photo courtesy BSAC)
KIMO points out that the UK government has yet to implement three treaties that could help cover local authorities for damage by hazardous substances and oil pollution. The International Convention on Liability and Compensation for Damage in Connection with the Carriage of Hazardous and Noxious Substances by Sea 1996; the Protocol on Preparedness, Response and Co-operation to Pollution incidents by Hazardous and Noxious Substances, 2000; and the International Convention on Civil Liability for Bunker Oil Pollution Damage, also have yet to be ratified internationally.

This failure to act shows "the lack of urgency ministers have in addressing liability and compensations issues in general," KIMO said.

There is currently no specific liability and compensation convention for non-toxic goods carried in container ships. Therefore, if the owners do not accept responsibility, local authorities must pursue compensation through the courts.

The MSC Napoli is owned by Metvale Ltd., a company based in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. It was operated by Zodiac Maritime Agencies Ltd, based in London.