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MSC Napoli cargo threatens Dorset coast

SALVAGE CREWS were last month recovering oil from the stranded ship MSC Napoli that beached last month off the south coast of England, east of Sidmouth, after getting into trouble.

An East Devon District Council spokesman told GE there was concern about a 50km stretch of coastline, around Branscombe Beach between Lyme Regis and Exmouth.

As yet, investigations have found no evidence of oil on the beach. But Secretary of State Representative for Maritime Salvage and Intervention, Robin Middleton said the vessel was carrying 2394 containers. 'A small proportion of these are believed to contain insecticides and pesticides, ' he said.

Salvage teams have dealt with up to 15t of heavy fuel oil that leaked from the vessel and spread 8km from the ship, according to a Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) spokesman.

The beach is part of 155km stretch of coastline designated a World Heritage Coast.

Rubber oating booms have been used to contain the spill around the ship and workers sprayed 1t of dispersant chemicals onto the sea surface at the end of January to accelerate the dispersal process. No other oil has been spotted on the water since then and booms have been used to prevent contaminants from reaching the nearby tidal rivers Axe and Bird.

'The main concern with the clean up process is getting oil off the ship, ' said the spokesman.

Emergency workers were battling to pump 3500t of fuel off the ship onto an adjacent tanker at a rate of 30t/h amid fears that the ship could break up and cause an ecological disaster.

About one third of the fuel had been removed by the end of January and the MCA hoped the remainder would have been transferred by the beginning of this month.

It is thought the vessel leaked oil through an air vent as it listed while beached. The MCA took the decision to beach the ship amid concerns that it would sink before it reached harbour at Portland where it was being towed.

Barges loaded with two cranes were due to arrive as GE went to press to begin the process of removing the containers from the wreck.

Work to retrieve them is likely to take several months. Some of the containers have been recovered but 33 are still unaccounted for and presumed to have sunk.

'The district council is taking a back seat until the bulk of the salvage work has taken place, ' said the local authority spokesman.

'Then we will coordinate an effort with local volunteers to clear the beach of any debris from the containers.'

The United Nations Educational, Scienti and Cultural Organisation designated the 155km stretch a world heritage coast in 2001.

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