Scilly islanders in mad rush to grab ship's cargo

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The Independent Online
Cargo washed ashore from a container ship that ran aground off the Isles of Scilly yesterday causing an oil slick, began disappearing in scenes reminiscent of the film Whisky Galore, according to island officials.

Cars, vans and prams were used to carry off the contents of containers lost overboard from the 3,000-ton vessel Cita, including toys, computer parts, car tyres, clothes, T-shirts and textiles.

In the classic black and white film, cases of whisky are snatched from ships wrecked in the treacherous seas off the Western Isles of Scotland.

"People are going berserk," said Steve Watt, a Scillies maritime officer.

"[The cargo] is gradually disappearing in all directions. It is just like Whisky Galore."

Mr Watt understood that police were standing guard by a container full of tobacco.

Cornwall's emergency planning officer, Stan Lygo, issued a warning to anyone "who might be tempted to help themselves".

"There is a risk they might injure themselves getting on to the rocks and because goods have been contaminated by sea water and maybe oil," he said.

Sgt Russ Mogridge of the Scillies police said people removing items washed up were not necessarily breaking the law, as long as they later reported what they had taken to the Receiver of Wreck.

"We are not preventing people from takings things, we are trying to deter them," said Sgt Mogridge, who mobilised the islands' two special constables yesterday to help himself and the other regular officer.

Eight more police officers were sailing from the mainland to deter the removal of further items from the wreck.

Marine pollution experts were also heading for the islands last night after a 60ft diesel oil slick formed around the stricken vessel.

A dozen members of the Marine Pollution Control Unit will assess what action would be necessary if more oil leaked.

However, fears of a major environmental disaster were allayed by reports from the Falmouth coastguard that the ship was not in danger of breaking up and that the weather conditions which had caused her to run aground - Force 5 winds - were easing and visibility improving.

The Marine Pollution Control Unit said anti-pollution equipment were due to arrive on the island from Southampton last night, together with five beach masters.

The unit's director, Robin Gainsford said: "At present we are confident there has not been a significant oil spill. However, the MCPU must be prepared for the worst."

The Isles of Scilly are of great importance for wildlife. The islands support internationally significant numbers of breeding lesser black-backed gulls and greater black-backed gulls.