September 18, 2008

Work to Remove Napoli is Halted

By David Wilcock

All work on salvaging the remaining part of the MSC Napoli will be halted until next year because of bad weather, it was announced yesterday.

All that remains of the vessel, which was grounded off East Devon, is the rusting stern section, which was expected to be removed by the end of October, marking the conclusion of an estimated pounds50 million salvage operation.

However, the Secretary of State's representative for maritime salvage and intervention, Hugh Shaw, has agreed with environmental groups, the salvors and insurers representing boat owner Metvale that autumnal storms make the work too dangerous to continue.

It means the wreck could still be off Branscombe beach two years after it was grounded there in January 2007.

Mr Shaw said: "The decision to suspend salvage operations for the MSC Napoli was necessary to lessen the risks that the onset of harsher autumnal weather would have presented to the safety of the salvors involved and the local environment.

"The conditions under which salvors are operating are now becoming increasingly treacherous. During the initial incident, no lives were no lost and my aim is to lessen the risks to anyone involved in the operation during this final phase."

He said 2,800 tonnes of the aft section of the 60,000 tonne vessel have been removed. But the remaining section is heavily constructed and "proving difficult to dismantle", especially the 1,400 tonne engine.

"The vessel's location and exposure to the elements has not helped salvage activities," he said. "There is also an estimated 3,000 tonnes of silt and clay trapped inside the ship and adding substantial weight to the overall structure.

"My goal continues to be the removal of as much of the remaining aft section, as is practicably possible, balanced against the environmental sensitivities of the Lyme Bay area."

The news was met with dismay by some villagers in Branscombe.

Guy Bentley, who runs the Old Baker Tea Shop, said the continued presence of the wreck and the workers was affecting village life. "As a general rule for the locals, we cannot wait for everything to get back to normal again," he said.

"It will be nice to see the back of it. I live down by the beach and I go out there every night and you cannot see the night sky for the lights from the workers' camp.

"It ruins the whole beachfront and I'm sure it destroys the character for regular visitors."

A 500m temporary exclusion zone remains in place around what remains of the wreck off Branscombe beach.

Additional navigational marks will be deployed around the wreck, while counter-pollution response measures including personnel and equipment will remain in place.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency will continue its regular flights over the site.

Another villager, Anthony Sellick, said it might not be a bad thing for the recovery and teams to stay for another winter.

"The wreck isn't doing any harm and the teams patrolling the beach are doing a good job of recovering things," he said.

"There is going to be a certain amount of stuff on the sea bed which will wash up over the winter.

"Bits of steel and other material are still washing up on the shore which isn't good. But we are not suffering as much as we first feared."

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.