/ 22 January 2007

Britain on pollution alert as ship flounders

Salvage teams on Sunday battled to secure a damaged container ship grounded off the English coast, as 200 tonnes of oil and other hazardous materials threatened the nearby coastline.

The stricken MSC Napoli was deliberately run aground in waters close to Sidmouth, south-west England, after it was damaged during a storm on Thursday. Navy helicopters rescued the vessel’s 26 crew members in rough seas, 70km off Lizard Point on England’s south-west tip.

Salvage teams had hoped to secure the ailing vessel, but their efforts have been hampered by gale-force winds, leaving an 8km sheen of oil on the water’s surface.

French maritime officials said that of the 41 700 tonnes of merchandise in the ship’s 2 400 containers, 1 700 tonnes were considered dangerous, including battery acid, explosive and flammable material. The containers also hold motorcycles, car parts and oak barrels.

Britain’s Department for Transport said more than 200 containers from the ship, which was listing at a 30-degree angle, had slid into the sea as new gales struck the English coast late on Saturday.

Maritime and coast-guard spokesperson Paul Coley said two of the containers that went overboard contained hazardous materials — including battery acid and perfume products — but that the risk they posed was ”minimal”.

A variety of goods, including BMW motorbikes and car parts, also slid off the ship.

”About 200 tonnes of oil has been lost,” said Coley, adding: ”We still believe that no major tanks have been breached.”

Robin Middleton, the government’s salvage adviser, said a greater threat was posed by the ship’s 3 000 tonnes of diesel and fuel oil, some of which had leaked out through a crack in the vessel’s port side. He said only one fuel tank appeared to be ruptured, and no more than 200 tonnes of oil were likely to leak.

Middleton told a news conference that salvage workers would attempt to stabilise the ship to prevent it capsizing, pump out the fuel oil and remove the containers.

The 16-year-old vessel is registered in London and was last inspected by the coast-guard agency in May 2005, when officials said it met safety standards. — Sapa-AP