Cargo free-for-all halted


LONDON (AP) – Hundreds of scavengers swooped onto a beach in southwest England on Monday and carted away motorcycles, wine barrels, car parts and tennis shoes spilling from a container ship damaged in recent storms and listing about a mile off shore.

The British cargo ship was deliberately run aground close to the Devonshire resort of Sidmouth, 165 miles southwest of London after it was damaged during a storm Thursday. Its crew of 26 was rescued.

French officials said that of the 41,700 tons of merchandise, 1,700 tons were considered dangerous, including battery acid and flammable material. The containers also hold motorcycles, car parts, oak barrels and household possessions being moved to new homes.

The scavengers descended on the containers overnight, carting away 15 BMW motorbikes among other items. Authorities warned that the scavengers would be breaking the law if they did not report what they found.

“People should be able to be allowed to take what they like. It is clearing up the beach, and it is part of the beach culture,” said one woman who carried away some carpet. She refused to give her name to reporters, but said she would report the find as the law required.

Oil and other toxic materials leaking from the ship threatened Sidmouth and Branscombe beaches, part of 95 miles of coast designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site because of the rich fossil beds found along the shore. Small fishing ports along the Devon and Dorset coast rely on the tourist trade to survive.

At least 200 containers went overboard, including three carrying toxic materials such as battery acid and perfume.

Tony Redding of Zodiac Maritime Agencies, manager of the stricken MSC Napoli, said that some oil had leaked from the ship but the main tanks were secure. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said some birds affected by oil had been rescued.

“The oil seen around the ship is coming from washout from other areas, but the main fuel tanks are intact,” Redding said. “The second priority is to take off the 165 chemical containers and then carry on with the rest of the operation.”

Booms were placed in the River Axe and River Brid to prevent fuel getting into the fresh water system.

Grahame Madge of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said dozens of birds had been rescued from the slick.

He said that it was too early to assess the impact of the leak, although oiled birds were being found up to 30 miles away from the ship.

“I don’t think it’s three figures yet,” he said.