Scavenging saga comes to an end as 'Napoli' is refloated

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The Independent Online

The stricken container ship MSC Napoli was floated out to sea yesterday, ending a six-month salvage operation that started after she was storm damaged and then grounded off the Devon coast.

The ship became famous for the chaotic and sometimes comical scenes that followed her grounding, when people scavenged goods from 50 containers that had washed ashore.

Yesterday, the 62,000-tonne vessel was stabilised after being winched off the seabed and towed 500m out to sea by the Maersk Advancer tugboat. A team of 20 experts made temporary repairs to cracks in the sides of the hull, and today they are expected to make further assessments about the extent of the damage.

About two tonnes of oil that leaked from the vessel during the operation was dispersed, but other than that the operation was said to have been successful.

Toby Stone, of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said the refloating was a "success story without a doubt". He said sinking her would have led to the pollution of thousands of miles of coastline".

The fate of the Napoli is still undecided. Her crew of 26 had to be rescued after she suffered hull damage in a Channel storm on 18 January. The vessel was then grounded in Lyme Bay between Branscombe and Sidmouth amid fears she would sink while on tow to Portland in Dorset.

As engineers worked around the clock to pump out 3,500 tonnes of fuel, thousands of people crowded onto the beach in an almost carnival atmosphere as they helped themselves to the booty from 58 containers washed ashore.

Locals were seen taking BMW motorbikes worth several thousand pounds while others climbed into containers and helped themselves to everything from disposable nappies to car steering wheels.

The looting reawakened an interest in Britain's salvage laws, which allow people to keep goods washed ashore as long as the owner is informed and does not claim them.

Police sealed off the beach after five days of looting. Approximately 150 of the ship's 2,300 containers were classed as having potentially hazardous contents.

There was some environmental damage after an estimated 200 tonnes of oil were released. Hundreds of oiled birds were treated by the RSPCA, which estimated that around 1,900 seabirds were affected.