Grounded container ship is refloated

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The Independent Online

The grounded container ship MSC Napoli was finally floated from the seabed today after being grounded off the Devon coast for six months.

The 62,000 tonne vessel floated free a mile off Sidmouth, after huge pumps removed the last of 58,000 tonnes of water from her holds.

The culmination of a three-day operation to free the stricken vessel began at low water at 7am today and took just over two hours to bring her off the bottom.



The Napoli will be towed by two tugs 500 yards further out to sea from her current position, where there will be a full underwater survey of her hull by a team of divers.

It was cracks in the hull during a Channel storm on January 18 which led her to be grounded off the World Heritage Coast amid fears she would sink.

Some cracks have been repaired, but divers will now inspect a crack underneath the vessel to assess the extent of that damage.

The Napoli will be held in position off the coast while a decision is made about her final disposal.

During the operation today two anti-pollution vessels stood by to deal with any residual oil, and a Maritime and Coastguard Agency counter pollution aircraft circled the area.

After the vessel was grounded on January 20 hundreds of people converged on nearby Branscombe beach to scavenge the contents of around 50 containers which floated ashore from the vessel.

Looters carried away everything from BMW motorbikes to disposable nappies.

The chairman of Branscombe Parish Council John Bass said today the Napoli's presence over the last few months "has put east Devon on the map.

"A lot of people will be glad to see it has not been a disaster on the shore and affecting the environment.

"Hopefully the Napoli will not be quite forgotten as part of the history of our village, but we will be glad to see it go."

He agreed however, that it was right to ground the vessel in the area adding: "If it had been allowed to sink further out in the Channel the amount of pollution and damage to the environment would have been worse than we had here."







Even so, around 1,900 seabirds along the coast were affected after 200 tonnes of oil leaked from the vessel soon after grounding. A further 4,000 tonnes of fuel oil was pumped from the Napoli's tanks.

During the salvage operation, 2,300 containers were removed from the ship, the last coming out of the water-filled holds on May 24.

The Napoli saga began when she was hit by a force eight gale 40 miles south of the Cornish coast while en-route to South Africa from Antwerp. Her 26 crew abandoned ship and were rescued by helicopter.

During a tow to Portland, Dorset it was decided to ground her off Sidmouth because hull damage gave rise to fears she might go down.









Toby Stone, head of Counter Pollution Response for the MCA, said the operation to salvage and re-float the Napoli had been "a success story without doubt".

"The bigger challenge was the decision to beach her in Lyme Bay, which was the best option.

"The alternative was a ship on the bottom of the sea polluting over a period of time and polluting thousands of miles of coastline", he said.

Once the Napoli was towed to her new position, teams of divers would spend several days surveying the hull.

Information from that survey would be used to help make a final decision for the final disposal of the vessel.

Mr Stone said globules of diesel and heavy fuel oil had escaped during this morning's operation to re-float her, but they were dispersing of their own accord, and no spraying was necessary.

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