IMAGE: BEACHED SHIP
British Maritime & Coastguard Agency  /  via AP
The beached cargo ship MSC Napoli sits Saturday a mile off the coast near Sidmouth, Great Britain.
updated 1/22/2007 12:53:38 PM ET 2007-01-22T17:53:38

Marine crews concentrated Monday on removing fuel from a listing container ship that threatened wildlife with spilled oil and other toxic materials on popular tourist beaches and fishing grounds of southwest England.

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

The cargo ship was deliberately run aground close to Sidmouth, 165 miles southwest of London, so as to keep it from sinking. Its crew of 26 was rescued after the ship was damaged during a storm Thursday.

French officials said that of the 41,700 tons of merchandise in the ship’s 2,400 containers, 1,700 tons were considered dangerous, including battery acid, as well as explosive and flammable material. The containers also hold motorcycles, car parts, oak barrels, and household possessions moving to new homes.

“The oil seen around the ship is coming from washout from other areas, but the main fuel tanks are intact,” Redding said.

165 chemical containers
“The second priority is to take off the 165 chemical containers and then carry on with the rest of the operation.”

Sidmouth and Branscombe beach are part of 95 miles of coast designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage site because of the rich fossil beds found along the shore.

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

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

Dozens of birds, including guillemots and cormorants, had been rescued, said Grahame Madge of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. “I don’t think it’s three figures yet,” he said.

But he added that it was too early to assess the impact, and oiled birds were being found up to 30 miles away from the ship.

Scavengers taking goods
Police patrolled Branscombe beach Monday trying — with limited success — to keep scavengers away from about 40 containers that had washed ashore.

“A couple of hundred people have been on the beach today, taking things away, and there were around the same number last night,” said Constable Steve Spearitt.

“Around 15 BMW motorbikes were carried off the beach last night,” he said.

Authorities warned that the scavengers were defying the law.

“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 requires.

“If anybody has already made recoveries from the wreck, they are obliged by law to report to the recoverer of wreck,” said Sophia Exelby of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency. “Failing to do so is a criminal offense, effectively they are stealing from the owners.”

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Video: Ship scavengers

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