Law of the sea calls bounty hunters to heel

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The Independent Online
This is whisky galore, l997 style. But the bounty hunters who gleefully waded into the sea to scavenge from the wreck of a stricken freighter now risk prosecution if they fail to declare their loot.

The beaches and the shallow waters off the Scilly Isles came to look like a gigantic, surreal Easter sale; the cargo of the stricken vessel Cita was there for the taking - and people took it.

Insurers estimate the value of lost goods may top pounds 1m. The cargo ranged from expensive teak doors from Indonesia to tyres, boiler suits, fashionwear, and Action Man toys. The 3,000- tonne ship ran aground on St Mary's last Tuesday evening while heading from Southampton to Belfast.

Her cargo, set adrift in containers,scattered over different parts of the Scillies. At Porthcressa around 1,000 pieces of Marks & Spencer clothing washed ashore, most still in their plastic wrappings. At Watermill Bay it was trainers - more than 500 pairs, while more than 4,000 tyres pitched up in Garrick Bay. At Port Hollick Point, where the Cita's hulk looms out of the waves, it was mainly the teak doors, worth more than pounds 100 each, which washed ashore.

At St Mary's police station, Sergeant Russell Mogridge warned that those who fail to declare their booty to the Receiver of Wrecks would face prosecution. "Most households will end up by getting something from this," he said. "They have a duty to report what they find."

At Porthmellon, a nature reserve owned by Prince Charles's Duchy of Cornwall, Andrew Gibson said he was saddened by the extent of environmental damage from abandoned packaging. Mr Gibson, a director of the Isles of Scilly Environmental Trust, and an adviser on conservation to the Prince of Wales said: "People are natural scavengers, but some people have been totally irresponsible ... they are [also] putting their own livelihood at risk by littering the beaches right at the start of the tourist season ... We are pleading with them to take all the waste they create home with them."

The Cita's hull was ripped after she hit Port Hellick Point, and she lost all but 10 of her cargo of 160 containers. Around 90 tonnes of heavy oil remains on the German-owned vessel and this was being pumped out yesterday. The Coastguards believe that four tonnes of the oil leaked into the sea.