Islanders face action for plundering grounded ship

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The Independent Online
Scores of "wreckers" who plundered the contents of containers swept ashore from a cargo ship still aground on rocks off the Isles of Scilly could face prosecution if they do not return the goods.

The wreck of the 3,000-tonne Cita provided islanders who flocked to Port Hellick Bay on St Mary's with their richest beach plunder for decades after it went aground early on Wednesday morning.

The 300ft-long Antiguan registered vessel was carrying 200 containers of cargo, including everything from Action Man toys, car tyres and computer parts to textiles, clothes and shoes. When containers began coming ashore scores of local residents swarmed over the rocks to take anything they could carry, with maritime and a tourism officer, Steve Watt, calling it a "salvager's paradise".

Eight Devon and Cornwall police officers were on the islands yesterday to help the two regular and two special officers there note who was taking what from the beaches. A spokesman said: "Police on the islands have been keeping record of who has been seen with what. The police are confident that the islanders have been displaying their usual helpfulness to the emergency services by removing property for safe-keeping to avoid it being swept back into the sea at the turn of the tide." People will be asked to return property to its rightful owner once arrangements have been made for storage. "In the unexpected circumstances that someone does not return property police know they have removed, then criminal proceedings will be considered," the police spokesman added.

A Customs spokesman said that under the Merchant Shipping Acts of 1894 and 1906 people were obliged to report recovered flotsam to the Receiver of Wrecks.