Branscombe barmaid saw her case wash up on beach

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The Independent Online

When Marilyne Simony sent a suitcase of her boyfriend's photographs, books and clothes to South Africa, she never expected to see it again. But after travelling more than 1,000 miles by sea, the suitcase was washed up on Branscombe beach in Devon, less than two miles from where it started its journey.

Ms Simony, 27, only realised that all her belongings had been on the MSC Napoli that ran aground nine days ago when she saw a framed photograph of herself with her arms around Kobus Pretorius, 20, pictured in the local newspaper as an example of wreckage.

"I had packed up 30kg of luggage that was too heavy for Kobus to take back home on the plane; all the photos of us together, of his friends from his two years living in England, and of his family in South Africa," Ms Simony, who works at the Victoria Hotel in Sidmouth, said.

"When I saw the grounded ship near my home and heard of the looters on the beach, I thought the name Napoli sounded familiar. But it was not until the deputy manager of the hotel showed me the local paper, with a photo of people's belongings that had been washed up on the beach, that I realised what had happened. It is crazy and weird that this suitcase went so far and ended up back on my doorstep."

On Thursday, she went down to the beach to try to reclaim her boyfriend's belongings. But the police would not let her go down on to the beach. "They are cleaning up all the debris now," she said. "But so many people had been collecting on the beach that I don't think I'll ever get the luggage back. I was horrified - the whole suitcase must have been opened and everything taken. It is very upsetting."

Mr Pretorius' closest friend, Peter Juhasz, said: "He was silent for a good two minutes when he heard. It was a huge shock. But it was the photographs we were most upset to lose."

Ms Simony paid Seven Seas shipping company £140 to get the suitcase shipped to Pretoria in South Africa but was unable to pay the company to insure the contents because it was too expensive. The contents were due to have been reunited with their owner on 29 January.

The suitcase had been picked up from the Victoria Hotel - which became the temporary home of the Receiver of Wreck Sophia Exelby and the coastguards who were co-ordinating the salvage.

It then travelled from Sidmouth to Felixstowe by lorry, where it was then loaded on to the MSC Napoli, and sailed to Antwerp in Belgium. It was while the vessel was en route to Le Havre in France that storms in the English Channel ripped a hole in her side and she was deliberately grounded a short walk from where the suitcase started its journey. Of the MSC Napoli's 2,400-container cargo, 103 were lost overboard while 40 washed up on the coast - 20 at Branscombe.

Ms Simony met Mr Pretorius at the hotel on Sidmouth Esplanade, where they were both working as waiters. But after spending two years in England, Mr Pretorius was unable to renew his visa. She now hopes that someone will get in touch to give back any belongings before she visits her boyfriend on holiday in April. "It is just so strange to think that people nearby may be walking around in Kobus's clothes," she said.

A spokesman for the Receiver of Wreck said: "If the suitcase has been stolen there is an amnesty in operation where people can return goods to the Receiver of Wreck. It's an exceptionally difficult job - but if anyone has the suitcase they can return it to us and we will get it back to Marilyne." The deputy manager of the hotel, Simon Emerson, who first recognised the photograph, said: "It is just completely bizarre that it washed up about two miles from where Marilyne and her boyfriend had spent so much time together."

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