Salvage experts in struggle to prevent oil spillage from beached cargo ship

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Salvage experts were battling last night to repair a 6,400-tonne cargo ship that ran aground in high seas off the coast of Cornwall.

Salvage experts were battling last night to repair a 6,400-tonne cargo ship that ran aground in high seas off the coast of Cornwall.

Attempts to recover the Maltese-registered Kodima, which has righted itself since becoming beached at Tregantle Range in Whitsand Bay, near Plymouth, on Saturday, were delayed by poor weather until low tide at 4pm yesterday.

A Dutch salvage team was winched on board by helicopter and was faced with the choice of repairing a minor marine diesel leak or attempting to tow the vessel to safety by tug. The ship has a fuel load of 450 tonnes of oil.

The Kodima was carrying a cargo of timber from Sweden to Libya, and police were called to the beach yesterday to deter "wreckers" from taking lengths of wood washed ashore from the vessel. At one stage hundreds of people were loading vehicles with lengths of pine. Police warned them that it was theft unless the Receiver of Wrecks was notified.

Although the Maritime and Coastguard Agency insists there is little chance of the ship breaking up or losing its fuel load, the salvage operation has been given added urgency by fears of severe weather in the area over the next two days. A coastguard spokesman said salvage plans involved removing the bunker fuel and pollutants and preventing any spillage. There had been a slight oil leak from the engine room, which could be smelt on shore.

Emergency services fear a repeat of sea conditions on Saturday when an RAF rescue helicopter lifted the 16 Russian crew to safety after their vessel listed heavily in a force nine gale 10 miles off the coast.

There was some respite yesterday from severe weather of the past week, which has claimed a dozen lives and wreaked widespread havoc.

The number of flood warnings was reduced to 31 nationwide, with three severe flood warnings along the river Wye in Wales and the Midlands. The Environment Agency for Wales said some routes were now passable in Crickhowell, Dyfed, which was cut off on Saturday by floodwater from the river Usk. In Gwent, engineers were assessing the damage after heavy rains triggered a landslide in Clydach, forcing 15 families from their homes and blocking the A465 Heads of the Valley road.

Geoff Champion, a spokesman for the Environment Agency, said river levels had dropped. He added: "The weather forecast is not as bad as it was and the worst of the rain may be over, but people are still suffering in the aftermath of the floods."

Forecasters say there will be strong winds and rain today in western Britain with eastern areas likely to see heavy rain in the afternoon. Rain and strong winds are forecast for Northern Ireland in the morning.