Twist in mystery of the German ship 'leaking chemicals off Cornish coast'

Vessel may be carrying dangerous and toxic substances including sodium and phosphorus
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The Independent Online

A Russian master mariner has made public what he claims is the list of the dangerous chemicals on board a German container ship that has burnt for seven weeks in the Atlantic and was last night 30 miles off the south coast of Cornwall.

Mikhail Voytenko published the manifest of the stricken 85,823-tonne MSC Flaminia on the internet. The ship is now under tow and awaiting orders from Hugh Shaw, the Government's salvage representative.

Mr Voytenko reported: "MSC Flaminia is actually a big chemical, toxic and miscellaneous dangerous substances floating bomb. No wonder crew fled the vessel, no wonder EU states fear MSC Flaminia is just short of being a nuclear device ready to explode."

According to the manifest, the cargo in 149 containers classed as hazardous, corrosive or flammable, includes liquid polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs], the pesticide isopropylamine, nitromethane, a fuel used in the Oklahoma City bombing, liquid amines, phosphorus and sodium.

The Maritime Bulletin reported yesterday: "The number of the containers with dangerous goods seems to be unusually high, many of them are NOS – Not Otherwise Specified".

Dr Bernhard Mueller, a hazardous chemical transport lecturer in Cologne commented: "The amount of flammable substances on board seems to me to be the greatest danger. These may cause real trouble if the sodium and phosphorus containers catch fire. There are self-reacting class-C solids on board which have to be transported under temperature control. On a burning ship they can explode and spread environmental damage."

Mr Voytenko, the former editor-in-chief of the online Sovfrakht Marine Bulletin, fled from Russia in 2009 after breaking the news that a timber ship hijacked in Swedish waters was being pursued by the Russian Navy. Israeli intelligence sources claimed the Malta-registered freighter Arctic Sea was carrying a Russian air defence system to Iran.

Exiled in Bangkok, Mr Voytenko investigated unexplained features of the Arctic Sea voyage as a correspondent for the Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta, established in opposition to the Kremlin by the former Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev, and the billionaire state Duma deputy, Alexander Lebedev, the financial backer of The Independent.

Hugh Shaw, the UK's representative for maritime salvage and inter- vention (Sosrep), has so far refused to allow Dutch, British and Italian tug skippers to tow MSC Flaminia through UK coastal waters until an international six-man team of inspectors can examine persistent "hot spots" in the hold.

Two sailors were killed and three injured after an explosion in the hold on 14 July, when the ship was inward bound from Charleston, South Carolina, for Antwerp, Felixstowe and Bremerhaven. The German, Polish and Filipino crew abandoned the ship 1,000 miles from Land's End.

The representative for maritime salvage was appointed after MSC Napoli was stranded off Devon in 2007. Both Napoli and Flaminia were on charter to the Mediterranean Shipping Company in Switzerland.

The German government has agreed to allow MSC Flaminia to be unloaded at an unused deep-water berth at the Jade-Weser-Port near Wilhelmshaven.

But Mr Shaw said this week: "Until the coastal state inspection has taken place, and the results passed to the other coastal states en-route, the MSC Flaminia will not be given approval to proceed to Germany."